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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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For his feature film directorial debut, Russell Crowe has found a suitably ambitious story of love, loss and redemption.

Scars of History

Joshua (Russell Crowe) goes to great lengths to find his sons.
Joshua (Russell Crowe) goes to great lengths to find his sons.

Marking their centenary, the events of Gallipoli and the horrors of World War I in Turkey are still in the headlines today. Exactly one hundred years ago, on April 24, 1915, a pogrom of Armenians began in Constantinople, an initiative that started with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals. It went on to become a genocide of 1.5 million. Even now the use of the term “genocide” is a source of political heat emanating from Ankara. Was it genocide? Or was it the mutual annihilation of humanity during the natural course of war?

That’s a debate to be made elsewhere.

In The Water Diviner, the action centers around ANZAC efforts in the Dardanelles.

Joshua Connor (Crowe, A Beautiful Mind) is a farmer in Australia. His wife is despondent following the disappearance of their three sons during combat. While her husband is adept at finding wells of water underground, she laments his inability to find their own sons.

After her apparent suicide, Joshua drowns his sorrows in action. It’s now 1919 and Joshua heads to Turkey in search of answers and, hopefully, his three sons. It’s a seemingly insurmountable quest in light of the thousands of nameless soldiers killed and the lost mass graves that dot the 8-square-mile battlefield.

Trials of Job

The Water Diviner easily avoids any allegations of being a vanity project for an actor turned director. And surely Crowe has taken notes while collaborating with A-list directors like Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, Michael Mann and Sam Raimi.

The ambitions and scale of this production call to mind the ridiculously grand aspirations of In the Land of Blood and Honey, directed by Angelina Jolie (for one thing, she directed the movie in its entirety in both BHS and English). Both movies are heavy on subtitles for that rare bit of lingual realism, and both deal with the madness of war.

The Battle of Gallipoli has had its ripple effects during the past 100 years and it’s stayed on the Australian conscience. Another cinematic flashpoint is Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, released in 1981 and starring a then-unknown Mel Gibson.

Like Gallipoli, which was to some degree based on the diaries of soldiers, The Water Diviner is “inspired” by true events. At its core, though, is this father, Joshua. He draws easy comparisons to Crowe’s Maximus in Gladiator. He’s a soulful man, heavyhearted by the loss of his family. Both Maximus and Joshua are also men of the earth, in tune with their surroundings and the dirt in which they’re destined to reside.

Complexities of War

As Joshua navigates through wartime politics in Istanbul while trying to arrange a visit to Gallipoli via “proper” channels, he’s also taken away from the vast emptiness of his home and thrust into a grand city with marvels like the Blue Mosque. So fittingly, Crowe also stylishly incorporates whirling dervishes, instilling a dreamlike quality to the nightmares surrounding Joshua’s quest and the fates of his sons.

But there’s another theme at work which offers food for thought. During the course of 1915-1919, there are those unforeseen complexities of war, such as the need to ally with former enemies, and the need to heal war wounds.

As the only father who came searching for his sons, Joshua becomes a figurative bridge between those disparate needs. The pure humanity of his quest is inarguable.