The Waiting City: Film/DVD Review
The Waiting City: Movie/DVD Review
The first half of the year can have you burrowing through the DVD bin at home on movie night to wrest an old standby from your personal library when there seems to be little to rent. Or standing in the local Cineplex, a bit dumbstruck at the parade of sequels, prequels, and the latest three dimensional extravaganza with colorful talking animals.
On May 31st, The Waiting City was released to DVD and BluRay, almost a full year after the theatrical release, and still a year from the production wrap, in late 2009. This delay likely comes from the film’s Australian production, so that the export to foreign markets (like the U.S.) took a little extra time.…It was well worth the wait.
Aside from the last five minutes, which feel a bit like the awkward parting that comes after an emotional or intimate exchange between people, The Waiting City is a pitch-perfect film.
Slowly delivering you into the embrace of Mother India, the film begins with a couple who have arrived in Calcutta to meet with their case worker and finally meet the young child they’ve planned for a long time to adopt. A few mishaps and some red tape and the waiting begins.
Rhada Mitchell (The Crazies) and Joel Edgerton (who can look a bit like Edward Burns by his profile but has more acting ability in his big toe) turn in flawless performances. The two Aussies are understated and real, parsing out the lines of writer-director Claire McCarthy’s effective, economical script as if they were inventing the phrases themselves. McCarthy seems to know how people really talk; what they’re like when in conflict, what they’re like in the heavy silences which follow.
“Hi,” says Edgerton’s Ben Simmons, a day after their big fight.
“Hi,” says Mitchell, as the indomitable Fiona Simmons, mollified only for a brief moment. And off they go, deeper into India, to the small village where the daughter they plan to adopt, Lakshmi, is originally from.
The wardrobe and makeup affected to help Mitchell’s character, Fiona, evolve with the journey are superb, and the message is clear: it is really her journey. The male, for once, takes the more touchstone role – she breaks herself against him, she lashes out at him, she comes back to him. The story doesn’t focus on their past or the inner workings of their relationship – these things are only hinted at for the majority of the film, back story known to its creators that inform performances and direction but are unnecessary to the narrative.
Deeper we wade into the experience of Mitchell’s Fiona, with the questions bubbling up: Why is it that a person mentally adept and savvy enough to adopt is an atheist lawyer who’s had an abortion? Fiona is the changeling in the film. While Edgerton’s strong but passive hubby retreats a bit into his music and whimsy, Fiona rails against herself, India, and all she knows. But the eye of India, the incredible, palpable mysticism, is bound to find her.
The moment Rhada “gets it” is after throwing herself in the Ganges river. She knows the river is sacred, albeit toxic and brown. She immerses herself at first to be a bit twitty, to say, “See? Sure, I can do this,” and then we watch as she floats under water, suspended, caught in the moment, caught in the spell of the Ganges. As she breaks the surface, a boat goes by with a young man steering with a long pole – he’s just a silhouette, and we pause on him just long enough to fall, ourselves, into that deeper layer – that moment she “gets it.”
What does she “get?” What do we “get?” This cannot really be said. This can only be experienced by each individual. As we follow Fiona through her travails, we have to wonder – is there is really any other kind of life than the spiritual one? No matter what we do or where we go we are called, our hearts are tugged by our innermost needs. No matter the place or religion, we are just people, and what we believe is irrelevant to the fact that we suffer, that we are flesh and blood. And, yet, at the same time there is something beyond the literal that is universal, and this is the religious experience, all the variant expressions of the innate knowledge within each of us.
Fiona struggles with literal interpretation, which creates literal rejection, but it is impossible for a literal person to reject something mystical. Fiona says, “I don’t believe in virginal births or elephants with many arms.” Yet, she becomes a mother by adopting Lakshmi – she has a “virginal birth” of a sort. And the moment the mother-goddess (not Ganesha, the elephant, actually, but most likely Kali) visits her…well, let’s not spoil it; this is another place in the film which sends a spear right through you, another moment that positively glows. Here Fiona falls to the ground with what is ostensibly her second epiphany.
The other interesting issue the film raises comes in the form of Krishna, the couple’s Indian guide. At first, he is critical of their decision to adopt a child, aiming the disapproval at Fiona in particular. He asks her why she is seeking to be this little girl’s mother – what right does she have? The little girl already has a mother – Mother India – and that motherhood is a gift from God.
Imagine, though, if the U.S. was a third world country. Imagine if people came in from other countries and adopted a child from your hometown. They come with a different color skin, different customs, much more money, and they “save” the child from your town. Imagine that your culture was infused with powerful religious belief, and the child adopted was to be raised in a secular home. Krishna’s character represents a powerful and valid reservation.
Mother India is indeed powerful, and The Waiting City deftly and subtly conspires to reveal this. This is the region of the world where Gandhi was, and where Siddhartha Gautama roamed. This is the aching, beating heart of the world. The Ganges waters are toxic – pigs eat filth along its banks. The streets of Calcutta are unbelievably mobbed. People on top of people, brushing teeth near a gutter, squatting for bowel relief in an alley. All of this does something to the senses, to the ideas of civility and custom. There is such great humility that it takes over, and a different kind of civility, one that goes beyond Puritan mores and etiquette to something highly refined and essential. It is something greater; a living energy. This is the old, worn skin of the world. This is the blackened balls of the weathered feet. The Waiting City is an experience everyone should aim for.
–TJ Brearton is a Contributor to The Free George.
The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.
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