Tomorrow, When the War Began (Film)

I recently saw the film adaptation of Marsden’s “Tomorrow, When the War Began” and was unexpectedly impressed. The story concerns a group of Australian teenagers returning from a camping trip to find that their rural town has been captured by foreign invaders. It’s Red Dawn in Australia. :S

The movie is extremely picturesque, and incorporates a surprising amount of action – the ATV chase was the standout for me, an innovative and gripping scene. Marsden talks down the medium of film in his interview, and I’ll bet that he dislikes the shift towards the action blockbuster in the adaptation, but the beautiful shots and striking set pieces are something that movies can do that books can’t.

The characterisations are unremarkable – the interviewer comments that they “begin as stereotypes”, and I felt that the protagonist Ellie’s personality was too brooding and detached, and many of the others too shallow. Their move into armed insurgence wasn’t convincing and there are particular pieces of dialogue that sound out-of-place and forced. In particular the film has an awkward relationship with the identity of the invaders: a character blurts that it doesn’t matter who they are, the motivations described in propaganda announcements are so shorn of content to be nonsensical, there isn’t enough foreign language dialogue for identification, and no-one is curious in the slightest about why this strategically¬†bizarre invasion is taking place.

There has been much angst and debate about whether depicting Marsden’s unidentified invaders as Asian is racist in its allusion to or use of “yellow peril” fears, whether the non-identification of the other side dehumanises them, and whether the entire affair is a contrived tiptoe around ethnic sensibilities. One scene has Ellie’s briefly attention drawn to a painting of European colonisation.

Marsden’s clear political leanings aside, I can see the intention to use the invasion as a setting for coming-of-age stories rather than the main story itself. Nevertheless I find the implausibility very distracting, and think that a better writer could have confronted the issue directly, dealt with it, and moved on.

In other news, the remake of Red Dawn is now having the enemy (in the original film Russia, then in the remake initially China) changed to North Korea…

The DVD I saw had a much less militaristic alternative ending; I think I preferred it very slightly.

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