Film and Theater Critical Response Essay
Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence and Jane Harrison’s Stolen – in retrospective
Film and theater, as among the most powerful vehicles of communication perform indispensable roles of delivering various messages to all audiences. These media hold unique attributes in terms and modes of presentation and such unique attributes differentiate the one from the other. Presenting a theme in film or theater is considered to be similar and different at the same time (Vivian 2002). It is because of the actuality that each medium has its own characteristics, strengths or weaknesses, and specific considerations in production. This paper presents a critical analysis on the similarities and differences of the film Rabbit Proof Fence by Phillip Noyce and the film Stolen by Jane Harrison. Specifically, the analysis explicates on the issue of content or theme, manner of presentation, and effect on the audience.
Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence
Based on a book Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence written by Dorris Pelkington Garimara, this story is based on the life’s account of the author’s grandmother. The book dramatizes the sufferings that young Aborigines have experienced. These Aboriginal children are now considered as members of the Stolen Generation. In its film version Rabbit Proof Fence directed by Phillip Noyce, the film presented a visual interpretation of the book. The main theme revolves on the depiction of personal struggles of three Aboriginal children named Molly, Daisy, and Grace and their escape. The film traces back the thrilling and epical passage of these three young Aboriginal girls who were taken away from the guiding arms of their own families. They were brought to the isolated Western Australian district called Jigalong and moved across the state on the way to the legendary Moore River Native Settlement. The escape of the three, led by Molly as the eldest, start out from Moore River and heading towards east with the objective of finding the rabbit-proof fence. The rabbit-proof fence is known to lead all the way back to Jigalong, which is more than fifteen hundred kilometers toward north. The film in its total context presents a social, cultural, and political representation of Australian Aborigines in the 1930s, the years of political and social instability. The main theme of the film is believed to be focused on racial discrimination and racism. This is seen on the character of A.O, Neville who assumed that segregation was the only means to ascertain the continued existence of the Australian society. Neville saw ‘half-caste’ young Aborigines as problem and solution to the Australian environment. In the film presentation, there are several different responses to the girls and their individual families. The theme presented in the film exposes a variety of interpretation from various perspectives. It could be analyzed using semiotics, political discourse, and feminist theory. In the semiotics approach, the theme was presented by giving significant interpretations on people, places, objects, and other things that were seen in the film. For example, the fence itself means a lot to the characters. It is tantamount to survival and freedom. If they are going to find their way to the rabbit-proof fence, they will be safe from harm and the chasing danger. The feeling that they anticipate to feel upon crossing the fence is ultimately associated and interpreted as the result of their longing, love, and importance given to their mothers and their families. The fence means a lot to them. It may mean everything to them. On the other hand, the political discourse approach illuminates the issue of racial discrimination and racism in the Australian context way back 1930s. This is the era where Australians strive towards social stability and acceptance particularly on the Aborigines. To quote Palmer and Gillard (2004), “There is no doubt that the material dealt with in Rabbit-Proof Fence brought to a wide audience the realisation that the policy of assimilation had a devastating effect on the lives of many young Indigenous people and their families” (p. 76). The political interpretation of the film is rooted on the disturbing efforts of previous Australian leadership to eliminate Aboriginality and the ambivalence (Palmer 2003); and the brave response of Aborigines to break free towards self-determination. Lastly, the feminist theory deals with the characters as they are women. It is very basic to understand that the film shows how the Aboriginal children, as symbol of women, exerted much effort to get through their unsympathetic conditions.
In terms of presentation, the film narrative is told in chronological arrangement where the characters’ identity transpired and developed all the way through the end. According to Phillips (1999), prevalent societal attitudes are traditionally considered as powerful influences on filmmakers. The film itself is a representation of the Australian socio-political and cultural sphere during the identified era. The audience who saw the film are said to be drawn to the plot and establish empathy with the characters particularly the ones that they can associate themselves or able to identify.
In relation to the effects to the audience, it is categorically accepted as a ‘smart’ film. It is because the film and its message are delivered effectively. The ending penetrated to the sensibilities of the viewers not only in intellectually but emotionally. The message is clearly depicted using the technicalities of film production. In the same manner, the effect is certainly not trivialized by the presence of Aboriginal children as main characters. All in all, the effect of the theme to the audience is mainly differentiated on the ability of the camera to play with the characters, the settings, and the circumstances that make up the whole film worthy of international awards and recognitions.
Jane Harrison’s Stolen
The play Stolen is relatively similar to the film discussed above. The same theme is presented with special illumination to the dramatic transition and development of the five Aboriginal children – Sandy, Ruby, Jimmy, Anne, and Shirley and their individual battles against difficult life experiences, distress, cruelty, and prejudice from the native Australian people. The same afflictions and sufferings were experienced by the three characters in the film. The theme of racism and racial discrimination is relatively presented through spoken dialogues. There are no significant differences in the film discussed above aside from the technical considerations on the given medium – theater. In terms of presentation, theater continuously characterized itself as non-technological or even anti-technological media by many critics. This makes the major difference. This is because of stubbornly labor-intensive type of production process and conceivably even as slow in its application of those modern media technologies that are available to it (Rice and Malone 1995). In contrast, cinema has been using up-to-date technologies that alter the traditional viewing experience. This also affects the absorption of the audience of the play’s message. In general, the film and the play do not differ significantly except on the technical aspect. The similarities are deliberate enough to be comprehensible and no longer needs critical explanations. It is further believed that the audiences who saw both can clearly decipher the whole message or theme in an effortless and interesting manner.
Palmer, D (2003) 'Youth work, Aboriginal young people and ambivalence', Youth Studies Australia, 22: 4, 11-18
Palmer, D and Gillard, G (2004) ‘Indigenous Youth and Ambivalence in Some Australian Films’, Journal of Australian Studies, 82, 75+
Phillips, W (1999) Film: an Introduction, Bedford/St. Martin, Boston, MA
Rice, RJ and Malone, PM (1995) ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Theater: Negotiating Meaning and Technology in Performance’, Mosaic, 28: 4, 39+
Vivian, J (2002) The Media of Mass Communication (6th edn), Pearson
Education Company, New York.
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