We like to think we live in an enlightened world, but sadly that isn’t always the case. Charlie’s Country isn’t something that will grab attention or be flashy but it is an authentic tale of the subtle pain of racism that still exists in our world today.
Charlie (David Gulpilil) is just living his life in a remote Aboriginal community in northern Australia, where government intervention in the culture’s traditional way of life has left many of the residents including Charlie, left unable to control their own destinies and powerless to the world around them. When his gun and hand-crafted spear are confiscated, leaving him nothing to hunt with, Charlie defiantly heads into the bush to live the old way. However when he is forced back to the community he finds the way back to finding a peaceful home is going to be much more difficult than he had anticipated.
A quiet and understated story that is keyed by a very powerful performance by David Gulpilil makes this something worth seeing. It’s not about overt or obvious racism but it is there and is permeated in the culture that is encroaching on the Aboriginal way of life.
Writer/Director Rolf de Heer co-wrote this story with his co star that has some autobiographical moments and it speaks rather profoundly to the pain of the Aboriginal community who are just out place on their own land. He doesn’t use any clunky visuals or ham handed metaphors as the story unfolds in a rather measured fashion. De Heer allows the majestic country side that these people have lived off of for centuries speak for itself and while the white man thinks he is bringing improvements the native people don’t think that all. To them this is an invasion, while admittedly a little exaggerated at times, it’s not without truth as it shows how encroaching and taking over native land is wrong, also that if people in a society are going to take advantage of some of the positive aspects of modernization, you have to let some of the old ways of living fall by the wayside.
Probably best known from his role in Walkabout, David Gulpilil comes in with a genuine and emotional turn as Charlie. We strive for him when he fights against the pointless and discriminatory laws that get put in against his people, laugh at his hi-jinx and feel sad when his anger takes it just a little too far and doesn’t understand the positives that could improve his life. It’s the story of a man at a crossroads between an existence that has been bred into him for generations and one that is being forced upon him by the outside world and he simply can’t find the necessary balance to be able to have all aspects of his life work in his advantage.
Charlie’s Country doesn’t hammer you over the head with any overt message, but it quietly sits with you and makes you wonder if we’re doing enough to stem the tide of discrimination across the planet. We’re numb to the big and bold messages, but the quiet ones work much better.