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Friday, January 13, 2012

Discuss the treatment of home, family and sense of belonging in the films Radiance and The Castle

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The importance of home, family and place and belonging is evident in both The Castle and Radiance, the screenplay. Both films suggest that a house is not something that can be accounted for materialistically, but something that contains irreplaceable memories of family events. While the films differ in numerous ways, they are similar in their emphasis on themes relating to a sense of belonging. Inevitably, people’s memories are constantly influenced by their house.


The Australian film The Castle reflects the importance of the home in Australian society. While the Working Dog film was made on a low budget, it was extremely successful because of the themes and concepts presented through its characters and situations. The primary allure of the film is its use of humour relating to the everyday, ordinary Australian family. The opening scene introduces the Kerrigan family through the youngest son Dale, and uses simple filmic techniques to set the tone for the film. The opening scene centres on a front-on image of Dale who goes on to introduce his family through a series of scenes. The main focus of the film is clearly the father, Daryl Kerrigan. Daryl is shown taking part in domestic chores and family events, as Dale affectionately describes him as the “backbone” of the family. The awkward editing and stilted camera angles used in this first scene reinforce the simplistic nature of the film and create a unique appeal to the audience. Rather than relying on filmic techniques, The Castle uses an almost “home-video” affect, attempting to give the audience a family that they can relate to.


Elements of parody can be seen in the opening scene in the simplistic nature of Daryl and his family. Aspects of traditional family life, such as the dinner table, the backyard dogs and Fathers Day are over-exaggerated in order to give the film comedic appeal. However, while some argue that The Castle might inadvertently “patronize the battlers” (Malone 1, pg1), it is unmistakable that while many of the family traits may appear amusing or slightly ridiculous, the Kerrigan’s are a loving and supportive family that clearly appreciate each other and their home. This can be seen in several parts of the film � in particular the relationship between Daryl and Sally.


“Ordinary people routinely define themselves in films and project their society as a certain kind of national society with its own directions and logics” (O’Regan 16, pg 04) Australian audiences can certainly identify with the Kerrigan’s in numerous ways. Traditionally, Australian’s have been inclined to support the “Aussie battler” and his family in times of hardships. The Kerrigan’s display several qualities of this conventional character � their use of Australian vernacular, a strong working-class ethic and in particular their sense of a “fair-go”. The turning point in the film for the audience comes when the family is told that they must vacate their home in return for compensation due to airport expansions. Here, the viewer feels a sense of injustice for the Kerrigan’s and their battle in saving their home. Although ordinary, the Kerrigan home is clearly sacred to its inhabitants. Daryl’s immediate opposition to the proposal indicates his strong connection to his home and family �


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“A man’s house is his castle!”


“You would be duly compensated”


“I don’t want to be compensated, you can’t buy what I’ve got!”


The court scenes in The Castle allow the viewer to witness a more serious side of Daryl, and in turn signify a change in the film from being based purely on comedic value to having more significant undertones. The initial failure of Daryl and his small-town lawyer Dennis Denuto cease to discourage Daryl in his quest for the saviour of his house. His dedication to his house and family are strongly reinforced through his desperation for justice. Through a chance encounter with a successful, retired barrister, Daryl is given the opportunity to succeed. Lorry can be seen as a binary opposition to Daryl � wealthy, successful and sophisticated. However, similar familial values are what bring the two men together, and this makes a significant impact on the film. In comparing and contrasting the two characters, it can be seen that while Australian’s may come from separate social-classes, values relating to place and belonging are similar everywhere. The final court-scene presents several notions relating to equality and justice in Australian law. It emphasises the importance of the house not only as a physical dwelling, but also as a place for the family to create a loving community � “Its not a house, its a home . . . a place for the family to turn to and come back to”. The victory that follows reflects the intent of the film � to show that although people may appear ordinary, they are still able to achieve something previously believed beyond their reach. Clearly the importance of home, family and sense of belonging is an important part of Australian society and this is portrayed through the characters and events portrayed in the film The Castle.


Similar themes are presented in the screenplay Radiance, directed by Rachel Perkins and written by Louis Nowra. While the content of the film is an obvious contrast to The Castle, parallel notions relating to home, family and sense of belonging are apparent. The screenplay centres on three Indigenous Australian women who come together, because of the death of their mother, and are finally able confront the past that is internally haunting each of them in separate ways. In direct opposition to The Castle, Radiance opposes the positive view of the “house as a castle”, and uses the house as a central blame for the painful experiences of the women. However, while this may be the case, the house still figures prominently in the film as a place of unity and memories, and hence plays an important role in each of the characters lives. This in turn suggests, that while many negative aspects surround the house, there is still a strong sense of belonging among the three characters.


Radiance can be seen as a typical Australian text in its constant reference to the past. Principal themes, such as confrontation of the past and reconciliation are not only significant to the characters, but can also relate to a broader, public sphere. Australian’s would be able to identify with each of the sisters and their personal “efforts to comes to terms with each other and with the devastating consequences of family secrets” (Nowra 1, ix). The importance of the house as a central character in the film is also a typically Australian concept. As seen in The Castle, the home is a place of family and memory. Therefore, while the ownership of the house lies primarily with Harry Wells, the memory of the three sisters and their mother cannot simply be removed or forgotten.


Each of the sisters view the house and their family in contrasting lights. Nona, the youngest sister, sees the house and her past as a positive experience. This is largely because, being the youngest, she was shielded from many of the horrifying truths, namely her very own identity. Nona was the only one of the three sisters to escape the torment of being forcibly removed from her family, and this is perhaps what encourages her to constantly defend her mother. She is obsessed with finding her natural father, the “Black Prince” and is disillusioned by this childhood fantasy aroused by her mother. Her memories and perceptions of her mother reflect many of her own characteristics � namely her attitude towards men and obvious partiality for sex. Nona is unable to accept the notion that men are not always saviours, and constantly uses positivity to convince herself otherwise, even when she becomes aware that her father is a rapist �


“If I saw him I would have to love him because he’s me. I am part of his flesh and blood like mum was. I’d forgive him. Is that terrible?” (Scene 1, the Mud flats night)


Mae’s perception of the house is seen in stark contrast to Nona’s. Her experiences of her mother were opposite to her sister’s, in that she witnessed her mother in a position incomprehensible to Nona. Mae was the only sister that burdened herself with the caring of her senile mother, and hence her anger and frustration regarding the chore is seen consistently throughout the film. She constantly confronts her past and uses the house as the channel for her aggressive feelings towards her mother. Mae’s way of dealing with her trauma is reflected in her obsession with the burning of the house �


“Ghosts burn, did you know that? And you’ll burn. It’ll all burn down, even ghosts can’t live in a place that doesn’t exist anymore” (opening scene).


Cressy’s relationship with the house is less apparent, that is until the ending of the film. There is an obvious conflict with the past, however Cressy is able to disguise her feelings more easily than her sisters. The turning point for Cressy is when Nona describes her sexual encounter with the Black Prince. She is unable to contemplate such an occurrence with the man that had raped her as a twelve-year-old child, and in a moment of weakness allows herself to finally reveal a secret that has haunted her for years. Her resentment towards the house itself is clear in her discomfort throughout the film, however, her true horror can only truly be seen in Scene 11 when she finally confronts her past anguish �


“Me! He did it to me! Under that burning house.”


The final burning scene is what ultimately forces the sisters to deal with their past. In burning the house, Cressy and Mae attempt to destroy the painful memories in order to re-establish their lives. The burning for Nona is devastating because she “still harbours the illusion the house can provide her with a sense of continuity between her childhood and the present” (Simpson, pg 0). It also signifies a realisation, and releases her from the dillusional world that she had been living in. When she finally scatters her grandmother’s ashes, she escapes from her previous self and embraces the future. The ending scene, where Nona is reunited with her sister’s is significant in that the sister’s are finally choosing to come together, namely because they feel that the burning of the house symbolises a new beginning. This in turn suggests that they feel that they belong together, and that they each value their family despite painful memories. As Davin suggests in her critical review of the film, the final scene suggests that the sister’s are “escaping not only the scene of the burnt house but the grasp of a past which has haunted and hindered them throughout their existence”


The importance of the house in Australian literature is evident in the films The Castle and Radiance. Both suggest that a house is not merely somewhere to live in, but something that contains far more. The influence of family within a home affects ones perception of the house itself. As Steve Kerrigan says to his brother


“The only reason I loved that house is because it had him and mum in it. And everyone else”.


While a house contains memories that can range from magnificent to horrifying, it is inevitably a place that histories are created and families discover their inner selves.


By Jessica Hardy


Bibliography


· Davin, Louisa � A Critical Review of Radiance. Internet explorer � http//wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film/dbase/000/Radiance.html Acquired 1th of June 00.


· Nowra, Louis � Women on the Mudflats and Radiance the Screenplay (Currency press in association with Belvoir St Theatre, 1)


· Malone, Peter � A House is a Castle (Cinema papers, 17)


· O’Regan, Tom � Problematizing Nationhood (London, Routledge, 16)


· Simpson, Catherine � Notes on the Significance of Home and the past in Radiance (Metro Magazine no 10)


· Working Dog � The Castle, directed by Rob Sitch


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