australian films

Australian Movie Month: Storm Boy (1976)

Starring: Peter Cummins, David Gulpilil, Greg Rowe

Director: Henri Safran

Mike (Rowe) lives with his recluse father, Hideaway Tom (Cummins) in a remote coastal area of Australia. Lonely and uneducated, he helps his father and adventures by the ocean until one day he stumbles across Fingerbone (Gulpilil), an Indigenous Australian who has been outcast by his tribe. They strike up a friendship when they must care for three orphaned pelicans. Fingerbone gives Mike the nickname Storm Boy, and one of the young pelicans, Mr Percival, becomes hos best friend and changes their lives forever.

I remember watching this film, which is based in a book by Colin Thiele, when I was a child. There has actually been a remake of this film this year, but this one is part and parcel of the Australian New Wave and is, amogst a few others, one of this era’s most well known examples. I have to warn you though, if you thought it was bad when Bambi’s mother died, this film is likely to snap your heart in half. I know it did when I was a kid and again on re-watching it.

It’s a beautiful and quiet film. The father and son don’t talk much, and a lot of the film shows rather than tells us things. The landscape is an innocent hideaway for the reclusive family. The blast of bird hunters guns seem exactly what they are: invasive and out of place in the peaceful seaside landscape. But though the place is idyllic, the outside world is always right there, either spilling over or beckoning: a place where Mike could go to school, to learn and grow and make friends. For Mike there is the world out there, and the world that he has always known, which is also the wild where Mr Percival belongs.

I think many children feel lonely and many wish for an animal friend like Mr Percival. It’s a story that anyone can relate to, (but the way that Mike’s father keeps him from going to school feels very much of it’s time. You’d never get away with that now). But unlike other animal films, this one is not overly cute or sweet, never sentimental. It’s a story about the cycles of life and growing up, but it also tells us about a lifestyle that’s close to nature and a bit wild. One where animals can be your best friend. There’s something about it that’s distinctly Australian.

See It If: this film makes me cry. You’ve been warned. Otherwise, it’s a visual and moving film that never falls into sentiment.


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