What We Talk About When We Talk About Love:
by Raymond Carver
in discounted Paperback from Amazon
In the opening sequence, a local man (Chris Heywood) is parked in an old truck behind rocks, watching the road into town. Backlit dust appears far off, moving closer. He peers through binoculars. In the car, a young, attractive aboriginal woman drives and sings along to a tune on tape. The man catches up to her, honks demandingly, all but bumps her car, passes and blocks the road. She's frozen in terror. The sequence ends as he exits his truck and approaches.
Jindabyne (the town where this takes place and last referenced filmwise in the 2004 picture, "Somersault") is a town that was swamped by a lake when an engineering project of major proportions was undertaken in 1949 in southern New South Wales.
What's swamping the dry, surviving part of town now is a slow, dusty way of life that casts a pall of depression and enervating pace among the townsfolk, most vividly expressed by the rocky turns the marriage between Claire and Stewart Kane (Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne - she's American, he's Irish) is taking these days. But however strained the relationship, especially by what's not expressed openly around young son Tom (Sean Rees-Wemyss), a worse tragedy's just occurred a few miles away.
Stewart's been planning a fishing trip with three of his friends (one an employee at his auto repair shop). After practicing their casting and packing their gear, they take off for the weekend for their campground by the river. After eating and settling in, the gear is unpacked and Stewart sets off to find his fishing hole. As he analyzes the current and the lay of the rocks he sees something that stuns him into disbelief. It turns out to be the corpse of the young woman on the road. The killer had dumped her naked body in the river.
The discovery turns Stewart frantic. He screams for his companions. They gather, absorb the shock, emotions calm, and the dilemma of what to do is decided. They've come for fishing and not even a dead body is going to disrupt the plan. That night, Stewart ties the cadaver's ankle to a tree so that it's not carried downstream by the current. After landing their catch the next day they manage to pick up a signal on their cell phone and call the police. When questioned, they're straightforward about when they found the body and what they proceeded to do afterward.
By the time they return to town, the news has spread, and the response isn't what they expected. They are excoriated for "fishing over a dead body." Townspeople won't look at them except to cast evil eyes. For want of the perpetrator, people take out their outrage on them with acts of violence and vitriol. They're condemned as callous, indifferent, heartless stand-ins for a killer. Claire's already poor feelings about her husband are fed by the disgrace of it, though the verbal attacks temper her reaction with some balance.
Lives go on, people take their stands, reactions modify. The couple faces up to its moral duty by attempting to apologize to the dead girl's family, showing respect despite the low esteem the aboriginals are held in by the righteous townsfolk. Prejudice is alive and well in Jindabyne.
Now, something strange occurs, and it's more behind the camera than in front. On her way to the funeral, alone in her car on a lonely narrow road, Claire is harrassed by a truck, so close to her rear bumpers that the intention to force her off the road is evident. She may be terrified but she keeps her cool. She pulls into a wide spot and stops. The killer pulls alongside, studying her. Clair confronts his soulless eyes with anger, and doubts. The killer moves on.
The one more time we see him is a terrifying one, but the strangeness here is in screenwriter's Beatrix Christina (adapting Raymond Carver's short story "So Much Water So Close to Home") and director Ray Lawrence's determination to avoid their story becoming a police procedural or in any way deflecting from their central subject: a troubled marriage as it's affected by a crisis from an external source.
Carver's style is slow and elegiacal. Silences and minimal dialogue characterize a study of character and circumstance that touch our moral conscousness. But, does it touch it in a dramatically gripping way or are we sticking to mundane drama in order to make a statement? Aren't we more concerned over justice being done than what happens to this couple?
We'll all agree that poor moral choices can propagate ripples on the surfaces of life. But the simple setting of a small, poor community where local prejudices run deep, the question of when to report a dead body doesn't quite rise to the level of dramatic fascination assumed here.
Readers of Harlequin novels might disagree and accept that efforts made by trackers, police or forensics experts to track the killer down -- a killer in their midst -- aren't even a blip on the scope. Which makes the film, with all its haunting moodiness, moral alarm bells and relational issues, not much more than the unexpanded short story it derives from.
~~ Jules Brenner