A Hard Look at Jindabyne
Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The following commentary is more in-depth than our usual reviews. If you prefer not to know too much about a film before seeing it, you might consider reading this article as a follow-up to the screening.

Jindabyne successfully executes something I thought was impossible: it addresses numerous ironies and ideologies while still maintaining a believable story. We see the universality of human frailty and prejudice, but through the delightful flavor of varying cultures. Still, Jindabyne is primarily a tragic story about the work of a serial killer.

In Jindabyne, the murder of an Aboriginal girl named Susan affects a great many people—but religious faith of many types (even the irreligious and non-religious varieties) clouds everyone’s thinking. The investigation is immediately thrown into the crucible of potential racism. The Aboriginal family and tribe of the victim look at Susan’s murder as an act of racism. Their own culture informs their reactions and launches them “on beyond reason” into speculation about what may have happened.

Laura Linney as Claire in JindabyneWhat actually happens is that four fishing buddies find Susan floating in the river. But, because they are white guys and do not report the crime until their fishing weekend is over, everyone assumes that there is more to the incident than meets the eye.

Callousness is pretty universal in Jindabyne. Everyone feels that they have been violated yet forgets that others have feelings and traditions to work through. Insensitivity prevents anyone from healing, or discovering who or what may actually be the killer.

Along the way, the nonchalant reaction of four guys on a fishing trip over the body of the killer’s victim becomes almost understandable. The logic of their argument is, “She was already dead, we couldn’t help her. This fishing trip is important to us.” You can almost sympathize with them—especially when you see their remorse over their decision. How do four people all agree to fish on despite their providentially given care of a dead body?

Good question. And the ensuing brouhaha does nothing to ease tensions or solve the crime. Their men’s wives and girl friends say, “She needed your help and you ignored her.” One wonders during the investigation if the police give up on the crime, too.

Of course the victim’s family sees everything very differently, even Susan’s burial. Their traditions require renewal of Susan’s spirit—and they cannot forgive how their rituals are disgarded. They see the whole incident as a snub. Their victimization also tells them that these men probably killed Susan, and who knows what else.

Everyone in this story is falsely accused. Once that happens, there isn’t much you can do to change popular opinion. Every action is interpreted as a cover for guilt. It is a slippery slope to judge motives before guilt is proven—given a plausible (if false) motive, everything else falls into place, at least in your mind. Precognition of motives lead to circular logic. These men are judged not by their actions, but by mob mentality. Forget what they actually did—the entire town of Jindabyne knows why they did it! Never mind that they didn’t, and that the real killer is still at large.

What happens when the first of a serial killer’s victims is found—before anyone knows that more murders will likely follow? I have always been fascinated by the stories that no one sees—the lives of those who live in proximity to the killer. How do serial killers do their work? Why are they successful? Are they particularly cunning, or is it just that their thought lives are so different than normal that they get a lot done before other people can conceive of such deeds?

This serial killer does the deed in a remote location—but there is more to ditch than just a body, items that others may recognize, things that can’t stay hidden forever. Eventually, murderers cannot hide the by-products of their work. And because of the murder, the townspeople have to start dealing with heretofore ignored deep pain. Public scrutiny scratches more than the surface of the town’s residents.

Sorry to spend these couple of paragraphs on the killer. But the murder is more than backstory. It is cadence. It is the underlayment—the subdivision of beats—for the slowly-developing melody line. Jindabyne moves slowly at first, but it must be meticulous in covering all the bases of the story. Through rhythm and thoroughness, the film seems to capture real life.

The film also works because it is able to combine so many literary components from the source material, a story by Raymond Carver. The narrative reveals so much about each character that you understand them better than most movies allow. This narrative-character complexity, coupled with the film’s natural-light cinematography, absorbs us into the Jindabyne universe. Director Ray Lawrence is a new favorite.

Beyond all that, Jindabyne asks great questions. Why do we refuse to objectively look at tragedy without first inserting our personal sense of cultural violation? Why do we accuse those we don’t trust? We don’t we trust them? Are we racist? Or hateful? Or just hurt? How does our personal faith or lack thereof cloud our thinking? Do choices or circumstances lead us to a crisis of faith? Or is our faith uninformed to begin with? Do we believe a lie, only to mock it when it turns out to be one?

Just because we believe a thing doesn’t make it so. Do we turn from God when He turns out not to be who we thought He was, even though we were wrong in the first place? Of course, God can’t be something He is not any more than I can—but that doesn’t stop me from denying him based on my preconceptions.

Yes, Jindabyne is meaty fare. I think you will like what thoughts it evokes. I dare you to talk about something else over coffee afterward!

Jindabyne is rated R “for disturbing images, language and some nudity.” The nudity I remember was the disturbing image of the victim’s body. So you get all the warnings (except language) in one place. The film is compelling and first-cabin story-telling. Don’t let the few images of the body chase you from this great story and beautiful cinematography.

Courtesy of local publicist, Mike attended a press screening of Jindabyne.