Wake in Fright was resurrected by Drafthouse Films. I’m going to get this out of the way, Wake in Fright is the original “Hangover.” The starting scene of John Grant sitting in a bleak, Australian classroom gave me flashbacks to Bradley Cooper.
Grant is stuck teaching by the Australian government in the no-man’s town of Tiboonda, but he’s headed out of town to meet up with his girlfriend. It’s funny to see Grant turn down a beer on the train the second time through this movie. The revelry on the train foreshadows Grant’s time in Bundanyabba. We’re introduced to Jock Crawford’s enormous appetite to drink by the enormous light he gives John. Jock is dumb, but loves his town!
Two-Up. We have to play this at the Mediocrities, right? John’s tablemate, Doc Tydon, checking the law of large numbers at the restaurant drops some philosophy on us, “All the little devils are proud of hell” and “Discontent is the luxury of the well to do. If you gotta live here. You might as well like it.” More foreshadowing of what is to come in the Yabba. I love the exchange at the table.
The Two-Up scene with John involved has to be one of the best gambling scenes in any movie. There’s chaos, excitement, and anticipation. Fair go! And John is out of there. I had a night like this at a casino near Chicago, anyone who has, can easily to relate to the excitement. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, 400 AUD in 1971 is 4,089.64 AUD in 2014. Quite a haul.
John’s excitement quickly turns to anger and desperation to leave Tiboonda. John’s out 400, let the spiral of the camera and John begin! John’s personality as he sulks in the bar and hangs out with Tim Hynes is a bit annoying, but come to think of it, he has to feel like shit. Things are low for John as he yaks in the desert instead of getting it on with Tim’s daughter. The single frame shots and spinning from John’s perspective while drunk were quite creative. They gave the viewer a better sense of how John is feeling, assuming one can relate.
In the “cabin” I couldn’t help but be drawn to the honesty and disgustingness of the alcoholic doctor. He’s sloppy, unreliable, and an awesome supporting actor.
When John, Doc, Dick, and Joe go out hunting the movie takes a turn from funny drunk to frightening drunk - someone no one wants to see. But this is a movie and at this point I’m curious how dark this is going to get after they hit the kangaroo with a car. Well, that didn’t take long - we’ve got the mass murder of kangaroos via spotlight. I actually looked this scene up after watching the first time. It was actual killing and was semi-encouraged by the conservation groups in Australia to show how brutal kangaroo hunting is. From Wikipedia...
In addition to the film's atmosphere of sordid realism, the kangaroo hunting scene contains graphic footage of kangaroos actually being shot. A disclaimer at the conclusion of the movie states:
The hunting scenes depicted in this film were taken during an actual kangaroo hunt by professional licensed hunters.
For this reason and because the survival of the Australian kangaroo is seriously threatened, these scenes were shown uncut after consultation with the leading animal welfare organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom.
The hunt lasted several hours, and gradually wore down the filmmakers. According to cinematographer Brian West, "the hunters were getting really drunk and they started to miss, ... It was becoming this orgy of killing and we [the crew] were getting sick of it."
Kangaroos hopped about helplessly with gun wounds and trailing intestines. Producer George Willoughby reportedly fainted after seeing a kangaroo "splattered in a particularly spectacular fashion". The crew orchestrated a power failure in order to end the hunt.
At the 2009 Cannes Classic screening of Wake in Fright, 12 people walked out during the kangaroo hunt.
Director Ted Kotcheff, a professed vegetarian, has defended his use of the hunting footage in the film.
Watching the shooting and the kangaroo fight is tough - it’s real, it’s painful, and it’s dark. I can’t tell if John’s reaction is a drunken way to fit in or he was really ok with it. I’d like to assume the former, but we’ve all been in a place where bad choices are made so we can fit in socially. Obviously most of us don’t go to this extreme.
As Doc and John wake in the morning, we have the same feeling as John - “What the hell just happened?” Unsure if John is going to get it together or things will just get darker, he’s desperate for another morning beer and a few moments later he’s eating roasted wild rabbit roadside. He swears off drinking, catches a ride, and is back in the Yabba. I wasn’t sure if he was going to blow his own brains out right there in the road.
As John winds up back in Tiboonda, I’m still ambivalent about my feelings for him. But I could watch his journey (other than the kangaroos) over and over. A few parts in the middle drug on a bit. I’m stuck between A- and A+, excited for the discussion.
A few fleeting thoughts... The score provided a means to express the hot, expansive outback, never drawing away from the movie. This may be a more effective drinking deterrent than “Just Say No.” If this movie were made today, an excessive amount of nudity, cursing, and violence would absolutely be a part of this movie - and it would severely take away from the darkness we witness from John’s point of view.