Road Movies, National Myths and the Threat of the Road: The Shifting Transformative Space of the Road in Australian Film

By Susan Luckman.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Despite it being originally a US genre, Australian film has lovingly adopted the road movie and made it into a unique reflection of a manifold national psyche. While the road may continue as a metaphor for life itself, Australian-made road movies have tended to represent the road journey not so much as a romanticised existential personal experience, but rather as an ambivalent site of personal discovery. Films such as Mad Max and The Cars That Ate Paris offer a dystopic vision of the Australian road journey, in the process creating what Jonathan Rayner (1999), drawing upon the earlier work on Australian film of Susan Dermody and Liz Jacka, refers to as an ‘Australian gothic’. In the Australian context it seems the very real dangers of driving and the knowledge of this loom large; roadside shrines and the growing road toll all equate to a hardwiring of the road to the possibility of physical—not just existential—death, and mitigate against the realisation of freedom via the road expressed in the genre elsewhere. Thus more commonly in Australian films, ‘escape’ is either not achieved at denouement or is highly ambiguous or pyrrhic. In this paper I consider the contemporary status of the Australian road movie, with a particular focus on two contributions in the last decade to the local genre by female directors: Clara Law’s The Goddess of 1967 (2000) and Sue Brooks’ Japanese Story (2003). Do Australian road films still perform this ‘gothic’ role, or in this age of four-wheel drives, recognition of Indigenous custodianship of, and increasing gender awareness, are our various relationships with the non-urban, interior spaces of the continent becoming less fraught?

Keywords: Film Studies, Road Movies, Landscape, Reconciliation, Gender, Race

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.113-126. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 638.047KB).

Dr. Susan Luckman

Senior Lecturer, School of Communication, International Studies and Languages and Hawke Research Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Dr. Susan Luckman is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication, International Studies and Languages and a member of the Management Committee of the Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia. She has authored numerous publications on new media, creative cultures and cultural policy, digital music cultures, and contemporary cultural studies and is co-editor of Sonic Synergies: Music, Identity, Technology and Community (Ashgate 2008), and a foundation member of the ARC Cultural Research Network. Current research projects include the ARC Linkage Project: ‘Creative Tropical City: Mapping Darwin’s Creative Industries’; developing the use of GIS digital visualisation and mental mapping tools in cultural research interviews; and shifting digital media trends: a survey analysis.


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