No, not Leonardo DiCaprio in Thailand or Ava Gardner ‘On the Beach‘ in Melbourne as the world ends “ nothing as exciting as that! Just a blackly hirsute Warwick Thornton on a patch of sand somewhere north of Broome in a shack that gets surrounded by those 8-metre tides up there on Cape Leveque twice a day, cooking up a storm and reconsidering his possibly over-indulgent life lived between iconic films such as ‘Samson and Delihah‘ and ‘We Don’t Need a Map’.
At three hours, which is how the SBS and NITV showed ‘The Beach’ on Friday night, it was a brave, possibly dangerous exercise in Slow TV. But I reckon it preferable to the catch-up opportunities NITV is offering you with nightly episodes all this week. For the ‘progress’ made by the Aboriginal film director and cinematographer from grump to a man more comfortable in his own skin (and lairy cowboy jacket) needs to be measured in the length of the monologues he addresses to his chooks and their number of swear words; hard to do over a week.
And should you find Thornton himself growing at all tedious, you will never be bored by the setting in which he’s chosen his isolation. As the north-west WA tourism site puts it, a striking contrast of pindan cliffs, white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters create the perfect backdrop to a unique cultural and coastal adventure!. And Thornton’s well-tutored son, Dylan River captures every iota of this natural beauty with his camera, it’s patterns in the land, its pristine colours, its moon rises, sunsets and its star-packed heavens, as well as the temporary effects that his father has on this country. The ancient landrover with its bush mechanic starting system creates concentric circles in the sand that surely reflect the images of waterholes painted by Thornton’s Desert countrymen over the aeons.
No shortage of water on Cape Leveque – though it’s a mystery as to where the drinking water comes from. No mystery as to where the copious quantities of spices, herbs and sauces that flavour the man’s very serious cooking come from; he’s brought them all with him in clearly labelled bottles and jars. For this is a director who uses cooking as his way of winding down at the end of a complex day’s filming; also a way of socialising with his crew. Cooking for him isn’t just a matter of throwing stuff in the wok “ positioned over an open fire Chinese-style with bellows to boost the required heat. It begins with the hunt (not very successful with a spear at sea, better with a net), is followed by intricate preparation and much bush-knife chopping of chillies and garlic, and ends with a plating that would do the chefs at Quay proud!
Sadly, we never get to see Thornton appreciating all this effort! But a cookbook will surely follow!
And we do get occasional flashbacks to the urban Thornton “ strangely in an empty bar surrounded by empty beer glasses. It makes his early unhappy efforts to ‘enjoy’ green tea understandable. Not that he muses on anything as mundane as giving up the booze. Instead, we learn of his flaws; of the elder he ignored because he was drunk and would humbug him for money; and of the little black puppies that someone used to dump on his porch, causing this clear-sighted man to freeze, refuse any succour to the little beast for as long as it took to starve, and only then leave his bed.
Coincidentally, a stray dog turns up in the film too. No comfort is offered then either, and the dog is left behind when Thornton packs up his cooking kit and drives off into the sunrise. Has he changed at all?
Yes, for by then you can feel a new-found calm: his energy levels have moved from a quite palpable languidness enforced by heat and salinity that allow only for tinkering on his guitar under the mosquito net until the evening breeze comes in, to a new positivity. As he’s told the chooks earlier, You gonna follow, or are you gonna create your own path?.
Oh, and he’s cut both hair and beard!