When I asked, “What movie is so iconic that it is embedded in Australian culture?” the responses I got, and the subsequent confusion reflected by my furrowed eyebrows and tilted head, had those people who answered baffled.
“You’ve never watched The Castle? At all? Tell me you’re dreaming.”
“Paper Planes? Never saw it? It’s with the guy from Avatar and this guy,” (shows pic of Ed Oxenbould), “surely you’ve seen those guys!”
“These movies define Australian culture.”
I began to think: what made these movies iconic in popular culture? So to answer my question, I decided to watch some of these suggestions and see if such movies represent the accuracy of Australian culture.
Movie 1: The Castle
Practically every Aussie I know quotes the lines. Whether it’s, “tell him he’s dreaming,” or “how’s the serenity,” to “it’s the vibe of the thing,” The Castle has become a classic cult film in Australian culture. Daryl Kerrigan and his family live near the airport, however they have been given notice that their house has been compulsorily acquired by the government. As such, Daryl commences legal proceedings to withdraw the government from acquiring houses near the airport in favour of plans to expand the development of the airport. As the audience, we see this all unravel from Daryl’s son, Dale, who narrates this whole movie.
When finishing the movie, I realised that it is not the journey of pseudo-legal proceedings that defines the plot. Rather, this movie displays the idea of home, a helping hand, and the value of family from ordinary people – a culture relatable to the everyday Australian. As Daryl says it best, “a man’s home is his castle.” We understand the sentiment of the Kerrigan Home. It is a comfort to the Kerrigans, a source of familiarity, and the chamber of the family heart. We see this extend to Wayne, the eldest sibling of the Kerrigan family, who is in jail for eight years for robbery. The scenes of Wayne staring at a picture of his family and laying in his jail cell, show that the comfort of family photographs is what keeps Wayne sane, that familiarity. The interaction that Dale and Wayne have when Dale visits him every Friday shows that family is family, where you don’t need to re-earn your place at the table. And the fight that Daryl puts up to stop this action from happening not just for himself, but for his neighbours as well, epitomises the fighting spirit we Aussies have.
Though in real life, it is believed that Daryl Kerrigan would have lost his legal battle, this film created a greater level of empathy from the Australian audience. The audience can relate to seeing such ordinary, working-class people with good intentions, coming with welcoming arms. Overall, this was a feel-good movie.
Movie 2: Muriel’s Wedding
Muriel’s Wedding was the next movie I watched. The only thing I knew about it was that it was the movie that made Cher get into ABBA.
The story follows Muriel, the target of harassment from her friends, considered to be socially inept. Burdened by her family and home life, lacking in romantic experience, and daydreaming to hopefully find love, she steals money from her parents to go on a vacation with her best friend to fulfil that promise. When watching this movie, we watch someone else’s struggles and follow them to the end of their journey.
Muriel’s Wedding is a rom-com movie where the main character, Muriel, is a source of consolation. As an “outsider,” it almost seems she’s drowning in indescribable emptiness. Yet, her journey towards empowerment and escaping the anxieties of the world acts as a hug to the audience. This movie reassures us that we all have the capacity for joy, even through the painful disappointments of life.
This movie is one that is catered to the broader audience, not only the Australian audience. At Muriel’s age, there is a lot of confusion with social expectations which pressures one to adhere to false ideas of happiness. Her moments of fictional marriages, singing to ABBA, her ventures into different dates, give a sense of vulnerability and insecurity that make her authentic. The constant hurdles make us feel that it is okay to go at our own pace for personal growth, amidst a society that demands so much from us.
Movie 3: Paper Planes
I remember when this movie came out. It was plastered on every movie cinema and featured in YouTube advertisements with Shepphard’s “Geronimo” playing in the background. Yet, the simplicity of this movie exudes a familiar but reassuring fun warmth. This movie had everyone grabbing the nearest piece of paper, making paper planes.
The story is about Dylan, who has recently lost his mother due to a car crash, and his father, Jack, who is dealing with the loss by watching home-videos all day. One day at school, Dylan discovers his passion for flight and paper planes, and gains determination to join the world paper planes championship. We see moments of his father and him mending their relationship as Jack becomes more involved with helping Dylan maximise the flying of his paper planes.
What I didn’t realise until after I watched this movie was that the paper plane competition was popular in Australian culture. Despite the simplicity of the film, it brings a lot of nostalgia of just being a kid and venturing into unlikely pursuits, though it may be questionable to an audience outside Australia why this would be a source of entertainment for us. Like mentioned earlier, I remember seeing parents, who were not concerned with making paper planes, suddenly constructing their own. Seeing them re-folding, making test paper planes and writing down improvements, was symbolic of them rekindling their childhoods, inspired by Paper Planes. This movie highlights the creativity and sportsmanship central to the journey of Dylan’s achievements and growth.