Wake in Fright (1971): An examination of the “wild side” lying dormant in all of us

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There is so much drinking in this film that I was constantly wondering if all Australians were this way or if a particular group of Australians, belonging to an area depicted in the film called Bundanyabba, possessed this habit. Here,people seemingly get more offended with your rejection of their invitation to drink more than anything else. Directed by Ted Kotcheff who helmed the first Rambo film First Blood, Wake in Fright is a fascinating and obscure Australian masterpiece that briefly existed in VHS form for a while in the 80s and was slated for permanent destruction in a warehouse in Pittsburgh before it was rescued by one of its producers. Something of a cult film, this film has now been revived and is available in near pristine form in dvd and blu-ray.

Wake in Fright (known as Outback in the U.S)  belongs in the same league as Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, which came out in the same year and John Boorman’s Deliverance, which came out a year later. These three films share some similar themes, although I preferWake in Fright above the other two. The film follows John Grant a young schoolteacher played by Gary Bond (an Australian Peter O’Toole), who is planning to go to Sydney for his Christmas vacation. On the way, he stops at another small town called Bundanyabba, called the “Yabba” by the locals, which is situated in the middle of the Australian outback. The first person he meets there offers to buy him a drink and this drinking goes on for a while. He confides to this man that he is not happy working at his school. He soon gets involved in a local gambling game called two-up in the hope of escaping his “slavish” job.

After going broke, a few other locals invite him to their homes and he has no choice but to accept their hospitality. One of the men is a disenchanted doctor called Doc Tydon, played to creepy perfection by Donald Pleasence. These men behave like animals and seem to have no moral principles. Grant slowly descends into a nightmarish odyssey of excessive drinking, drunken brawls, self-destruction and a disturbingly graphic night time sequence of kangaroo hunting which, according to the filmmakers, is real and filmed with the approval of the local animal rights groups as they wanted to spread an awareness on this issue. Wake in Fright shows man at his most primal and most savage and asks some thought-provoking on the nature of the male psyche: What provokes a man to commit horrendous deeds? Why does he do it? Are things really not in our control? Are we capable of doing the same if we are put in their shoes?

 

 

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