The movie starts out with an old bearded man painting symbols on the underside of a rock formation and then quickly takes you to the Australian Outback where school children are at recess. It is a hot, cloudless, dry day and we hear thunder without any clouds. Then it starts to rain. The children are happy to play in the rain and then go indoors. Then huge baseball sized hail comes down and flying glass cuts one child. Remember, this all started on a sunny and cloudless day! Later we learn that it has never ever hailed in this region. However, the aborigines in the area seem more aware that something dangerous is about to happen in the way they respond to the strange weather. Weir involves children from the start of the film as a way of getting you to think about them. When things are going wrong, our children are often the first to suffer. If unnatural things are happening, we need to protect our children. He also wants you to begin to see that the aborigines are different, more knowing, more alert.
The next scenes are in Sidney where it is raining. Richard Chamberlain plays a corporate tax lawyer and he is leaving his office, getting his car from the garage, and heading for home. An Italian opera loving garage attendant gives him a yellow pepper that he grew in his garden. (Remember, in a really good film, nothing the director and screenwriter put into the film is without a message. Here the messages are multilayered. The relationship with the garage attendant shows that our lead character is a nice guy, but it also is a message about the themes of this movie---valuing our ethnicity, appreciating the past, being in touch with nature….yes, all of this is being conveyed from a simple giving of a pepper. Plus, the pepper is of a type that Chamberlain has never seen before so we have the additional message of valuing the different, the new, tasting things you have never tasted before.)
When he gets home we see him greet his wife and family. We are further introduced to the character and see that he is a loving family oriented man living a relatively normal and comfortable life. But the music has an eerie edge to it and along with the pacing and the lighting we are becoming aware that a mystery is unfolding, perhaps some danger is lurking around the corner??? As the family is eating dinner we see water coming down the stairs from an overflowing bathtub. They turn off the faucets of the tub but no one turned them on? The wife proclaims that "this just doesn't happen by itself"…but….??? The mystery deepens. Chamberlain is walking in the dark house; his daughters and wife are asleep. What next, we wonder? When he does go to sleep he has a dream, "just a dream" he says, a dream in which he sees a vague figure.
The next scene is where the family is visiting with his stepfather who has raised him since his mother died when he was just a young boy. He mentions that he is having dreams and not sleeping well. The stepfather, who is a minister, relates how he had dreams as a child about witches and ghosts. He was then afraid to go to sleep because the people in the dreams would steal his body and take him places.
The next scene is one setting up the murder trail. We see an aborigine coming up from the sewer system deep below Sydney and being noticed by one of his tribe. He is accused: "You stole our things. You'll die." We see the aborigines catch up with this man at a local bar where ethnic Irish music is being played. (Remember, just as with the garage attendant and his Italian opera, we are being reminded of the importance of our ethnic heritage.) A fight and flight scene ensues. (Up to this point, a lot of the scenes of the sewer, the chase scene over mounds of rubble, and shadows looming large against a building is lifted from The Third Man. Since Weir is telling us in other ways that the our heritage is important, I assume that he is saying that the great films that precede this one are the filmmakers heritage.) We see a man point a bone at the person who is fleeing and we see him die as a result. At the autopsy the question is how did he die, as he was a healthy specimen? They decide to label it a drowning because he did have some water in his lungs and they couldn't think of any other reason. (Throughout the film we are constantly seeing water images, water is clearly a key theme.)
We now have one of the key messages of the film clearly articulated. It is our beliefs that kill us….or make us healthy. Beliefs are very important!
What dangerous beliefs do you hold?
Chamberlain as a favor to a friend gets involved in the case. The aborigines have been in Australian for some 50,000 years but it is believed that no tribal people exist in the cities. Yes, aborigines exist in the city, but they are believed to no longer be tribal. (We, the audience, already know differently. We have seen how they killed him with a bone. We are in on the secret. This helps draw us into the story as a participant. We see the arrogance of "intelligent" people who are not open to alternative explanations. Here again we see a key message of the movie---our need to be open to new beliefs, new ideas.) He meets with the defendants but one is not present.
When he is at home that night, another unusual event happens. It rains frogs. Then he has a dream of an aborigine coming into his home and holding out a stone for him with special markings on it. The next day he once again meets the defendants and this time the missing one, Chris, is present. It is the same person who he saw in the dream! Bingo! Tilt! Now we are really aware that strange things are happening! He tells Chris of the dream and invites him to his home for dinner. When he tells his wife she notes that she is fourth generation Australian and she has never met an aborigine. (Lots of important messages inherent in this remark.) When Chris arrives for dinner he has brought an older bearded man with him by the name of Charlie. As it turns out, Charlie is a powerful leader within the tribe and wants to know how it is that Chamberlain has the power to dream. (Charlie is a painter as is Chamberlain's wife.) At Charlie's request, Chamberlain shows him his family album so that Charlie can get an understanding of his ancestors. Chris does all the interpreting as we are told Charlie doesn't speak English. We find out that Chamberlain comes from the land of the sunrise, in relation to Australia this is South America where he was born. Chris explains that we are only the law. The law is more important than humans. He is not talking about laws that are legislated by politicians. He is talking about spiritual and natural laws. When asked why the man died that they are accused of killing, Chris explains that he saw things, took things, things he shouldn't touch.
When asked, what are dreams? Chris explains that they are like seeing, hearing, talking---a way of knowing things, a way of communicating. The dream is a shadow of something real.
After Chris, (remember that the names you give characters are sometimes symbolic---Chris, like in Christ), and Charlie (the Owl) leave we see them meeting with a group and then Charlie goes into a trance state and visits the home of Chamberlain and wanders through it until he shows up in Chamberlain's dream.
The next day the lawyer visits Chris and wants to know what really is happening. Chris is reluctant to say anything so Chamberlain the lawyer warns him: "You are in desperate trouble!" Chris fires back: "No, you are in trouble! You don't know what dreams are anymore!"
We now have another very important message clearly articulated in the film. It is those of us who are not in touch with our past, not aware of the spiritual and natural laws of the ages that are in danger. You must be in touch with your dreams!
Here we are talking about the dream world, the parallel universe, but also we are talking about your dreams in terms of creativity and aspirations. What dreams did you have when you were younger? Why did you lose or give up on those dreams? Every child is creative, is a dreamer, is open to life and new ideas and new beliefs. We start out in this world as dreamers, as eagles soaring, only to be socialized into herd animals. Yes, we need to be socialized; but we do not have to lose our dreams in the process. And if we do lose our dreams, then we become dangerous to both ourselves and others.
Chris lets him know that he may be "mulcrew" (I'm not sure of the spelling)---such a person has premonitory dreams. In the aboriginal belief system, cycles exist and each one ends with an apocalypse. Remember they have been around for 50,000 years so they are able to see cycles come and go, they have a longer view than we do. If you are going to understand the world you have to have a sense of history. To develop a cause-and-effect awareness of events takes perspective, time, history---that is what the tribal people can offer.
In one of the next scenes we have muddy oil raining out of the skies---hail, then frogs, now oil falling down on us. How many warnings do you need before you "wake up" and change your behavior? How many punishments are going to be inflicted on Egypt before they let their people go?
Chamberlain meets with Charlie alone after Charlie has manifested himself outside Chamberlain's house when he was not home and scared his wife. Before he enters the room, we see Charlie hide an axe under a sack. At first Chamberlain asks for an interpreter but we now find out that Charlie speaks perfectly good English. Chamberlain is upset because Charlie visited his home and scared his wife. He asks Charlie: "What do you want?" Charlie responds with: "Who are you?" Charlie repeats this over and over hypnotically and then chants so that Chamberlain is in a trance state. Charlie, the owl, asks Chamberlain if he is a fish, a snake, a man---and he says no to these choices. He then is asked if he is "mulcrew" and he nods yes! Charlie then shows him the axe and warns him: "Don't speak in the court."
We then see Chamberlain driving his car once again in the rain. Only this time water pours out of his radio and when he looks up he sees bodies floating by---he is under the water! Thus we see that he can have dreams even in a waking state. He is evolving, becoming more in touch with his powers. When he reaches home his wife has sent the children away and they agree that she should leave as well---it is not safe in Sidney any longer. His wife asks him: "What is it?" He responds: "I don't know yet…but I'm frightened."
The trial begins and he loses the case because Chris won't tell the truth on the stand. He starts to do so but then Charlie manifests himself in the room as a warning and Chris backs off from explaining that they are tribal people.
Chamberlain is now depressed and alone at home when his stepfather visits. The stepfather now confesses. For a month before his mother died Chamberlain, as a small child, dreamt what would happen! So we now know for sure that Chamberlain has premonitory dreams, that he has the type of dream powers that a "mulcrew" has. Remember, the Chamberlain character is symbolically a stand-in for you or me. If we had had such a dream of our mother's death, how might that have effected us? Might we not feel guilty for having caused her death? Might not we respond by repressing those powers? Not since childhood has he had these dreams. Instead of nurturing his creativity, he has become a corporate tax lawyer and avoided delving into the messier parts of life. He married an artist because in that way he could move more close to this beloved part of himself. As he matures and becomes more self-assured through success in his career and marriage, he now has more comfort within and is able to begin to let the lid off of the deeply repressed creative part of his personality---and the dreams begin to come to him again. What will it take for you to be willing to explore your creative nature once again or more deeply?
Charlie the owl then comes and destroys his home, probably in punishment for his having not heeded his warning to keep quiet in court. Chris shows up---remember, Chris is now in jail, has he broken out or is this a Chris manifestation, like Charlie showing up in court. At any rate, Chris takes him down into the sewers to visit the secret and sacred places of the aboriginal world.
Would you go down into the sewers with Chris? If not, why not? Because it is dangerous?
If yes, why? Would you risk all to find out things that are important about life and yourself?
Here again we see another of the powerful messages of this film. Life is about spiritual risk taking. Yes, it As Chamberlain goes down into the muck and water of the underworld, the world of dreams, the world of the spirit; we are frightened for him. It is not an easy journey. What exactly will he find there? Will he be harmed? Will he get lost? Chris is his guide (is Christ your guide?). When he arrives alone, as Chris does not go the final way with him, the final way you have to go alone, he discovers paintings on the wall that look to me more South American than Australian. He finds picture writing that tells him of the oil rain and waves that come apocalyptically to destroy everything, and a calendar that shows when the next wave will come. He also lifts up a death mask and it is his own face!
He now flees the site, struggling through muck, fighting his way all the way to the entrance high above only to find it locked. No easy way out. This time he must do it all alone, no guide. He must complete the journey by himself. He has to go down again, down into the darkness, down into the spirit world and find another way out. He eventually exits the caves, the sewers, the spirit world where the pipes flow out on to the beach and he walks over to the ocean and kneels down to wash his face. He is cast into the shadow of a giant wave, larger than any title wave, a huge wave that will swallow up the entire city of Sydney and beyond, The Last Wave.
This dark and moody film is filled with dire warnings. You are warned about the dangers of not being attached to your history, not being aware of where you came from and why you are here on earth and what the laws are that should govern your behavior. You are warned that you had better get ecologically in tune with the natural world before it destroys you. You are told that the path toward understanding will not necessarily be an easy one, however, your alternatives are very limited if you want to survive. We are alerted to the fact that ancient cultures have much to teach us and we need to honor their spiritual beliefs. Peter Weir, who both wrote and directed this film, is telling you this in his movie because he believes you can get in touch with your dreams, you can value the earth as a spiritual force, you can and you must if we are individually and collectively going to survive. One of the reasons we must do so is for the sake of the children. You must learn to empathize with the children. You must become a child again, not a naïve child, a knowing child, aware and sensitive and open to new ideas and your creative dimensions.
Remember when Charlie manifested himself outside the house and scared the wife? What was most scary about this scene was the knocking at the door. The wife wanted it to stop. But, it is nothing really scary out there; it was just the baby sitter. If you have courage to overcome your fears, your resistance to change, then when you open the door to new realms you will find that they are not really scary at all---that, in truth, the real frightening things are the result of our being closed off to our inner senses, our spirit nature, our creativity.