That Baz Luhrmann’s film, Australia, resembles the Bollywood epics I love should not come as a surprise. A quick review of his Wikipedia biography confirmed my hunch that he consciously models his movies on those made in Mumbai. A Google search disabused me of any arrogant notion that only I notice the extent to which Hugh Jackman attempts to channel John Wayne during his performance. Nonetheless, the parallels between Australia and Rio Grande compel me to write about their women – Nicole Kidman and Maureen O’Hara – as fiery, red-headed, mothers surrounded by red mesas and manly men.
At the close of a heart-wrenching week, which could not prevent the competitive cant of “Tiger” and “Dolphin” mothers, these films remind me of the perils appended to presumptuous parenting. I found the Amy Chua ignited brouhaha particularly repellent given the visceral reminder last Saturday and celebration tomorrow of the simple yet profound lesson that the content of our children’s characters NOT the caliber of their accomplishments matter.
Both films grapple with what follows when two strong-willed people embark on the adventure of parenting. In both cases, the women carry the confidence of class and the men of muscle. Their respective class and muscle-bound identities blind these mothers and fathers. The men fear their women’s coddling emasculation of their sons. The women fear their sons’ brutalization by premature exposure to the emotional and physical hardships of manhood. The parents’ relationships falter before their need to oversee their sons’ rites of passage demands reconciliation.
The son torn between separated Southern mother and Northern father in Rio Grande becomes a bi-racial orphan triangulated among surrogate English mother, Aussie father, and his biological Aboriginal grandfather. Every adult in these films loves the child for whom they care. They run amok when they think their particular form of love superior to others. Hollywood’s happy ending emerges when the adults realize the child needs all of them as much as they need each other, because no one of us possesses all the answers.
Humility not hubris. What a lovely dream.