When you have lived in a variety of places, the concept of "home" becomes a little bit fuzzy. It seems to take on a more figurative quality than a physical one. I am glad to say that there are things I have dearly loved about each place I've lived: Colorado for the proximity to my excellent in-laws and the mountain towns; Houston for the most amazing set of friends a young mom could ever have; Utah for my family, its familiarity and the itchy feet I get every winter to pull out my skies. If (When?) we leave Oregon, I will miss the green and the wet, but mostly I'll miss the ocean.
But none of these places have been foremost in my mind the past several days. Instead, my thoughts have turned to the home where I lived just over a year and have little practical chance of ever returning to. In just a few weeks it will be 12 years since I left that place.
I saw the movie by the same title on Saturday. Before going, I read several, mixed, critical reviews. I seldom do this before going to a movie, but I'm glad, in this case, that I did. It is important to approach the film with an understanding of what the director's intention was. Baz Luhrman set out to create an epic. And I mean epic in the Gone With the Wind, Ten Commandments and Wizard of Oz sense of the word. His story is a mix of a fable and history and miracles. His strong characters are placed on a technicolor backdrop and shot in an amazing array of situations both up close and from hundreds of miles out.
If you see this creation, you must immerse yourself in a world of film-making with the expectation to have an old-fashioned time at the movies. And such a time it is.
It took some time for me to settle into the rhythm of the film: the first 20 minutes or so is told from the narrative view-point of a biracial aboriginal boy (Nala) and the main characters are painted as almost-ridiculous caricatures. Then, when the other characters actually meet up with Nala, the actors assume a more realistic pose. The story is then told in two main parts--before and after happily-ever-after. A word on the three main actors:
The child is incredible. The film is really about him and his people. He carries the movie the way Haley Joel Osmet carried Sixth Sense and that adorable Maori girl carried Whale Rider. When this boy smiles, he steals every scene from two of the world's most beautiful people. His air is a perfect combination of innocence and wisdom. He is on the screen only minutes when you find yourself caring intensely about his fate.
Nicole Kidman is perfect as Lady Sarah Ashley. Again, the first several minutes of the film creates her as more of a parody of a great British lady than as a person. Then, within just a few hours of meeting Nala, she takes a horsewhip to her white foreman who is attempting to beat the child. She curses him off of her land without a thought about what will happen next and behind her beauty and poise you see a woman to be reckoned with. Her pencil-skirts and high heels deceive us into thinking she is a typical heroine in need of rescuing. But her intoning, "Just because that's how it is, doesn't mean that's how it should be," tells us that she, instead, will be the rescuer.
What can be said about Hugh Jackman? Perhaps only that People magazine previewed the film before publishing last week's article, because their assessment is spot on. As "The Drover" He is tough, tough, tough every minute. So tough that when startling moments of tenderness come through it is disarming and wonderful. For all the American films he has starred in, and how believable he is as an American, this movie is a powerful reminder that he is all Aussie.
Australians often call their country "Oz." When I first heard this expression, typical of the Aussie speech-mannerism to abbreviate any and all words when it is convenient to do so, I assumed I was hearing "Aus." then I saw somebody write it one day. Oz. Hmm . . . .
My favorite scene in the movie is when Nala is in need of comfort, and Drover tells Lady Ashley that as a woman, she must be the one to do it. She is awkward, having never really been around children before. Still, he listens wide-eyed and fascinated as she launches into a hilarious and horrible re-telling of the Wizard of Oz, complete with a terrible rendition of "Over the Rainbow." At its heart, this film is about each character's longing for a place they can call "home." Physical AND figurative.
When Dorothy learned what she needed to from her time in Oz, she went home, back to the arms of the people who loved her most. It is what she wanted; she was happy in Kansas. And yet, I can't help but wonder if there were days, in the years after her Dreamtime, that she sometimes stared idly out the window, forgetting all of her responsibilities for a few moments, and thought about Oz and how she might get back. In her black and white life, she remembered that magic place in all its technicolor glory, knowing she was better for her time away.
The Christmas I returned from Australia, my mother got an enormous wreath that she hung in her living room. It smelled of eucalyptus: just like Australia in the moments before a rainstorm. On lonely days, I sometimes sat in the room, closed my eyes and let the scent of Oz rush through my mind and remembered.
They say that "home is where the heart is." There is truth to that, but when you've left pieces of yourself in so many places, it isn't quite as clear. Perhaps that is what dreaming of that place over the rainbow is all about. The journey is as essential as the destination.