Jindabyne is a film about division, redemption and how completely uninteresting serial killers are. As someone who generally likes human-beings (and who has absolutely no interest in those who set-up their book deals on the basis of doing away with people) I loved it.
The first image in the film is a close-up on a piece of razor-wire pulled taut across Australia’s interior. It is at once a warning to the audience and to the characters that there are some lines that are about to be crossed here which, once crossed, will not allow anyone to backtrack.
We cut from the razor-wire to a man watching a road from a desert promontory. He is a madman. A serial killer. He is about to kill someone. The movie has no interest in him. Our attention is directed instead to the lives of those who will be affected by his act of violence: the residents of the postage stamp-sized community of Jindabyne, located in the middle of an Australian hinterland utterly cut-off from the world by the shear scale of the emptiness surrounding it (the movie is located in the spiritual and geographical Australia of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock: a place that is empty only because people tend to vanish in it).
We meet Gabriel Byrne and his wife Laura Linney. He is a mechanic who speaks like words are tools he can’t afford. She works in a pharmacy and acts like she’s dependant on something that Jindabyne has in short supply. They have a son who Linney abandoned when he was born for reasons that are never made explicit. She came back. Their lives continued. Linney has her friends and Byrne has his. There is a line that seems to separate the sexes, but only Linney seems to feel that such separation is unnatural.
Byrne and his friends go on a fishing trip to wherever “the countryside” is when you live a thousand miles from the nearest town. “No women are allowed here,” says Byrne. But a woman slips in.
Slips in? Or is slid in? “Slid in” is more accurate.
She is a young Aboriginal woman, killed by the serial killer we met at the beginning. Byrne finds her in the river and calls his friends over to help him – he is distraught, shocked, he looks to be about to quit the river and go avenge her death that minute. Only he doesn’t.
Why he doesn’t is the rest of the movie.
If Jindabyne was a murder-mystery, you and I know movie algebra would have Gabriel Byrne kicking ass and taking names from the moment he reached the riverbank (Irishman + Injustice = Blood-Soaked Fun and Capering). But Jindabyne is not a murder-mystery. It is also not (as many critics will surely try to label it): a Big Statement about Race and Ethnic-Bigotry in Australia. It is a film about division, certainly, but far more the division in Gabriel Byrne’s character than in his character’s adopted country.
Byrne is a treat to watch here; though hardly ever sympathetic in his actions, he pulls the audience to him, willing himself through the movie the same way (in one scene) he snaps his broken nose back into place: without pause. He is a man who makes his choices and lives with them. Laura Linney’s role in the movie is to force him – if not to change – then at least to reflect. She too does outstanding work to make an often prickly, at times unnerved character into Jindabyne’s moral compass.
The last scene of the film is of a wasp stinging a man before he slaps it. If you want understand what all that’s about: think of a Jindabyne as a study of a town stung; how, slowly, its people come to recognise that sting and how something is done about it.
It’s not about the wasp.