BLINDSIDED BY GALLIPOLI [1981]

So it is that time of year. Flu season. Hip Hooray! I normally don’t really care about such minor symptoms, but this flu has somehow messed me up much more mentally than it has physically. I’ve never experienced that before, I feel perpetually under-slept! Due to this I completely forgot about my Blindspot entry…. but hey wait, it seems Ryan is off on a small holiday! So this belated Blindspot entry can hopefully still be included in his belated Blindspot post. So, now we rewind time back to 1981, to a movie that as an Australian, I am ashamed that I hadn’t seen it before today. I hope you enjoy the post 🙂

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Directed by Peter Weir, Written by Peter Weir, David Williamson (screenplay), Ernest Raymond (novel)

Starring: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr 

“The Empire needs you. Your Country needs you and your mates need you. So come and find out how to get into the greatest game of all”

That quote says a lot. With our laid back attitude to… pretty much everything, advertising war as the greatest game of all to Australians is a little sick, as naive youngsters enthusiastically enlist, to join their mates overseas to a war, one in which they do not belong. I am unsure if this was an anti-war movie upon release in 1981, but that one quote certainly makes the film feel like it from very early on. Young people are wanting to join, with their elders unable to drill into their heads that war is Hell. As the film marches on, it becomes obvious that this is an anti-war movie, as Gallipoli isn’t exactly a happy topic. However it isn’t preachy in the slightest; it doesn’t need to be as it is telling the truth, and the truth of this particular story is not pretty.

This film is well composed. There is no war for the first two thirds of the movie, at least not the one at Gallipoli. But this builds the movie up well, as we meet Archy, who is a sprinter who is underage but determined to go to war. We see him tackle a war of attrition, a cross country run – with no shoes. He next completes a 100-metre dash in under ten seconds, with the bloody and blistered feet that his earlier trek cost him. Railway worker Dunne (Mel Gibson) is in the minority within his group of friends, all of whom are joining the infantry, while he would rather stay out of a war that he believes Australia shouldn’t be involved in. Dunne and Archy cross paths, and though Dunne isn’t audibly intent on enlisting, he suggests that Archy try to register in Perth, where he isn’t known. They end up in another war of attrition as they walk across the endless, dusty outback.

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For a war film, there isn’t much action apart from the last 20 to 30 minutes. Rather, the dread of war looms constantly over the film, whether it is early in the film where we hear the quote at the beginning of this rant, or later as English officers watch ANZAC soldiers charge on a trench for an exercise and comment positively on their enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for war. Dunne never quite looks settled as soon as he has left Australia, apart from one or two scenes, which really underlines this sense of dread. Knowing the stories of Gallipoli personally, knowing how it was going to end only amplified this.

Gallipoli is still as relevant a film as it was in 1981 (apart from some of that music, day-uum!) as it is a perfect example of young people following the orders of older, supposedly wiser men, only to march to their deaths. Recently has this has happened again, with brave men and women traveling to the Middle-East. I don’t question their motives for a second, but it wasn’t a war that we needed to be involved in. They were simply following the orders of older men who are certainly not on the front-line.

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Considering it was trench warfare, the last act is excellently shot and really displays how futile the mission was from the start. This didn’t need action and blood, as the horrid story of ANZAC soldiers charging a machine-gun protected trench just to serve as a diversion for their ‘allies’ is an engaging story in itself. This also wasn’t what I was expecting, I was expecting more… War, I guess. But I was riveted by the final act and found myself leaning forward, as the film builds up likeable Aussie larrakins who are hard not to like. I did my best to ignore all the awful attempts at Australian accents, and all the Australians exaggerating their accent intentionally. It added up to a bunch of very strange sounding people but I just rolled with it.

I can see why my father has been telling me to watch this film for the past decade. It is a bloody brilliant war film that doesn’t need a boatload of action for its dramatic effect.