“Strangerland,” the story of two parents looking for their missing children in the Australian desert, loses its audience.
In Kim Farrant’s feature film directorial debut, Strangerland follows Catherine and Matthew Parker, played by Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes, as they search for their two missing children in the heart of the Australian outback. The Parker family left their home for a small, remote town after discovering that their fifteen year-old daughter Lily had been in a relationship with her teacher. The disappearance of their children forces Catherine and Matthew’s marital problems to the surface, and they struggle to maintain their relationship and themselves amidst the chaos and grief of losing their children. Strangerland has the elements of a gripping mystery-drama: a vast, uninhabitable landscape, which is showcased brilliantly throughout the film, a family loosely tied together by the thin thread of a failing marriage, a well-meaning detective, played by Hugo Weaving, who grows closer to a worried mother as she distances herself from her husband. Unfortunately, the film falls short, despite its visual beauty and strong performances.
The beginning of Strangerland moves in a lackadaisical pace, dropping hints about the state of the family and how they found themselves in the town of Nathgari, however the pace stays the same for the remainder of the film. It continues to add details and plot points, but not enough to create a story with a clear purpose and active statement, leaving too much to the audience to try to figure out on their own, mainly concerning the explanation for the children’s disappearance.
There is something fascinating in this film that is left untouched: female sexuality. Lily is on the precipice of becoming a woman and embraces her budding sexuality. She flirts with a neighboring boy and frequents the town skate park, scouting male potential. She even keeps an elaborate diary with snippets of poetry surrounding pictures of herself and the boys she has presumably had sex with. Matthew is ashamed of how she flaunts her sexuality and tells Catherine that Lily learned it from her. Later on in the film, Catherine nearly seduced a boy Lily was interested in while wearing her daughter’s t-shirt and lipgloss. And then the discussion ends without ever having taken shape. There is so much untapped potential in this aspect of the story (it might have even had the power to influence or change the narrative), but any explicit comment or stance on female sexuality is sadly left out.
The dusty mood is expertly captured by Farrant and the cast is strong. Kidman and Weaving lead the pack with captivating performances of a grieving mother and a detective with subtlety and depth. However, Strangerland ultimately is not strong enough on its own to compensate for its missing details, leaving the audience in no man’s land.