Beneath Clouds Essay

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BENEATH CLOUDS
Ivan Sen (2002)
NOTES

* Opening credits: Images of rolling clouds, vast and immense, threatening and powerful. * Two female, high school students dressed in uniform walk a barren landscape. The only colour and movement comes from the trucks that roar through. Isolated, Aboriginal community. * Walk past an indigenous man carrying a jerry can of petrol. Stereotypical image of addiction. Lena in a thick Australian accent: “Whadda dickhead.” Clear from this dialogue that her values are very different from the norm. * Close up of dead butterfly with crawling ants, camera switches to close up of Lena. Connection between the character and the butterfly is made – both are beautiful creatures but neither…show more content…

Again, his action mirrors Lena’s (also treasured and hidden, but kept secret in order to deny that softer side to his self.)

* Lena at petrol station. Sick! Pregnant??? Misses bus, Vaughn arrives (stowaway in a milk delivery van) – fate??? Maybe Lena would not have continued on, but with him she feels more confident. * Wide shots of the landscape – vast, beautiful, flat. They are two small figures on the road. * Their physical separation (Vaughn walks behind Lena) and the use of close up shots of their faces, rather than appearing together on screen points to their differences and disconnection at this stage. Yet, they are dressed similarly and costuming has been used to imply that they will find some common ground as the film continues. Not so different after all.

Road is symbolic of the journey toward self-discovery.

* The fact that Lena leads is symbolic of how much further along she is in her journey and how Vaughn will learn from her. * Car 1: racism of white woman, representative of wider Australian notions of race and particularly indigenous people. * Wide shot of aboriginal men working in a field: L: “They look like a bunch of fucking slaves.” Allusion to a slavery past and history. * Vaughn thinks Lena is white, and she allows for this mistake by declaring herself Irish to him. The half-caste issue. She denies her Aboriginality and in doing so, a shameful connection to Aboriginal ways is cast.

Opening credits: Images of rolling clouds, vast and immense, threatening and powerful. * Two female, high school students dressed in uniform walk a barren landscape. The only colour and movement comes from the trucks that roar through. Isolated, Aboriginal community. * Walk past an indigenous man carrying a jerry can of petrol. Stereotypical image of addiction. Lena in a thick Australian accent: “Whadda dickhead.” Clear from this dialogue that her values are very different from the norm. * Close up of dead butterfly with crawling ants, camera switches to close up of Lena. Connection between the character and the butterfly is made – both are beautiful creatures but neither are able to flourish in such an environment.

Trapped. Also points to the unforgiving landscape they inhabit. This reflective moment is interrupted by another passing truck. * Young boy approaches. Smoking, spitting and truanting (all symbols of rebellion, or rather conformity in this place), we learn that he is Lena’s younger brother, Lee. * Another truck passes – her gaze follows, sense that Lena will not stay long in this place. She will get out before she too becomes like the butterfly. * Friend pregnant, Lena: “You’re never gonna get out of this shit hole Tye, you know that don’t’cha.” She is neither shocked nor sympathetic. Her use of profane language confirms her attitude toward this place. * Teen motion for Tye to join him outside the service station and she leaves. Lena does not follow – this is indicative of the choices the girls will make for their lives. * Lena passes a young mother on her way home.

* Begins to rain – pathetic fallacy. Lena witnesses her brother being led away by the police. * The house: dilapidated and uncared for, reveals a family life of poverty and disadvantaged. * Enters house. Medium shot of mother at kitchen table, with long neck beer bottles surrounding her and in the background the dog racing plays on the television, suggesting a home environment that is polluted with addiction, alcoholism, unemployment and gambling. Mother shows no concern for her son’s recent departure. * Lena to Mother: “Look at you, you’re a fucking disgrace.” The spite in her tone is unmistakable.

Recognition that all life holds for her in this place is pregnancy, crime and addiction.

* In her room, symbolism and iconography reveals those things that have the most influence upon her. The tidiness of the space juxtaposes the chaos of the rest of the house. Crucifix on the wall, Shakespeare’s plays, photo album under her bed (a precious, treasured and hidden thing) contains a photo of a fair skinned man. Iconic postcard image of Sydney Harbour Bridge, and close up of the signature, “love Dad.” Understand her plan to depart as a result of these visuals alone.

* Introduced to Vaughn. An angry, aboriginal teen imprisoned in a juvenile detention centre. Cutting trees with the other detainees, but his carving of a ‘V’ into its trunk indicates a more sensitive side. Despite claiming that he doesn’t care what happens to it, his behavior demonstrates a gentle side to his character. * Dressed in mandatory green tracksuit, Vaughn also wears a hood (the mirror image to Lena) and in this, appears more threatening than the others. Responds aggressively to another inmate, but there is the suggestion that there is something more to this youth that trouble and violence. * Extreme close up shot of his face behind bars. Emphasis of his confinement and entrapment. * Learns of his mother’s illness from his visiting, pregnant sister. Their exchange is cool and devoid of emotion. Declares no sympathy for his mother. Quote??? * In his cell: low angle shot of 2Pac poster (this is what he idolises), cannabis leaf in background of image, extreme close up of gun pendant on necklace. Symbolic of his influences, which contrast sharply with Lena’s. * Photo of family under mattress. Again, his action mirrors Lena’s (also treasured and hidden, but kept secret in order to deny that softer side to his self.)

* Lena at petrol station. Sick! Pregnant??? Misses bus, Vaughn arrives (stowaway in a milk delivery van) – fate??? Maybe Lena would not have continued on, but with him she feels more confident. * Wide shots of the landscape – vast, beautiful, flat. They are two small figures on the road. * Their physical separation (Vaughn walks behind Lena) and the use of close up shots of their faces, rather than appearing together on screen points to their differences and disconnection at this stage. Yet, they are dressed similarly and costuming has been used to imply that they will find some common ground as the film continues. Not so different after all.

Road is symbolic of the journey toward self-discovery.

* The fact that Lena leads is symbolic of how much further along she is in her journey and how Vaughn will learn from her. * Car 1: racism of white woman, representative of wider Australian notions of race and particularly indigenous people. * Wide shot of aboriginal men working in a field: L: “They look like a bunch of fucking slaves.” Allusion to a slavery past and history. * Vaughn thinks Lena is white, and she allows for this mistake by declaring herself Irish to him. The half-caste issue. She denies her Aboriginality and in doing so, a shameful connection to Aboriginal ways is cast. She is choosing to ignore that part of her self. * Male driver, also indigenous, stops for Vaughn simply because he is black. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is revealed again. Refer to each other through their dialogue as “cuz” and “brother”. Immediate kinship expressed through colloquial language. Diegetic sound comes from the radio as the lyrics “I wish I was back in the Dreamtime” filter out. * Cut to close up shot of dead cockatoo on the road side. White is indicative of innocence and purity. Another thing destroyed. * Car is pulled over by police. Officer refers to the driver as ‘boy’ – a derogatory term, belittling, demeaning. An allusion to the African slave term and reflection of inherent racism. The generic title removes the individuality of the driver. An assertion of power. * Police car seen leaving in rear view mirror (possible link between abandonment of Australian government concerning indigenous issues).

* Lena sits in the back seat, next to another young, fair-skinned
Aboriginal woman. She has a toddler on her lap. Again, that theme of pregnancy is raised and in response to the child’s cries, the driver turns and slaps her across the face. This scene seems to highlight the negative aspects of Aboriginal culture – that is, the subordination of women and prevalence of domestic violence. * L: “Stop the fucking car… I said, stop the fucking car.” To the driver: “you’re an arsehole, you know that.” * She takes a stand, noticeably Vaughn and the girl herself do not. Quiet acceptance of such exchanges. When out of the car Lena challenges him, and Vaughn replies: “None of my business.” A common attitude. * Disappointed by his response, the two part momentarily. Until two suspicious looking, white men stop and offer Lena a lift. She declines but they attack her, attempt to grab her bag and pull her into the car. Camera zooms in on Vaughn’s face and he runs in her direction. Saves the day. * The two are bound together by this experience and for the first time ever, they are captured in the same mid-shot. Camera switches to a high angle shot of both in the left hand foreground, the road and their gaze acts as a vector toward the future – the journey they are on together, now as equals. For the first time, they are empowered by the shot.

* Their initial hostilities begin to dissipate. Some confiding takes place. Vaughn talks about prison and Lena is not impressed by this. Lena: “You’re wasting your life.. You’ll never win… You’re a fucking loser.” * She is unsympathetic and blunt – traits commonly associated with Australians. But these questions challenge Vaughn and through then he is encouraged to think more pensively about his life, the direction it is taking and his role in his future. * In the cornfield, Lena happens upon a black cat with piercing green eyes. It is an odd scene and the cat seems unnaturally out of place in the environment. Mirrors Lena’s own experience. * Caught stealing the crops and the dialoge that is exchanged between Vaughn and the farmer is particularly heated. Witness the propensity for Vaughn to adopt an aggressive and combative stance. Racial tension is once again noted.

F: “Get out of here you black bastard.”
V: “Whad’ya say, whad’ya fucking say?”
F: “You stay off my land, you little shit.”
V: “Your land? This ain’t your land. You stole this fucking land and don’t you fucking forget it, fucking prick.”
F: “Go on, get out of here.”
V: “Ahhh, fuck you” (gives the finger, defiant, confrontational)

Allusion to the past again. Lena blankly: “Whadda think you’re doing?”

Relationship! Vaughn is stereotypical and Lena is not. She encourages him to question the choices he has made in his life.

She looks toward the future, whilst he dwells more on the past injustices and uses these as an excuse for his current situation.

* Close up of grass swaying, clouds in sky, telegraph poles and bridge. The natural versus the man made. * Close up shot of Lena’s Claddagh ring. Symbolic of her connection to Irish heritage. An outward sign of her identity. * Dialogue reveals their differing attitudes towards work. Lena has hope and a work ethic, whereas Vaughn is comparatively defeated and disinterested. In response to her goal to become a writer, he says: “Too fucking hard. All them words and shit.” Again, Vaughn conforms to stereotypical depictions of indigenous people as lazy, poorly educated and unwilling to enter the workforce. * The photo of Lena’s father prompts a conversation between the two regarding the sacred sites of white people. This is quite an important scene, particularly for Vaughn who had never thought about such things before. Issues of land ownership, cultural decline and race relations are raised. Vaughn employs the metaphor, “the war’s not over” to express how Aboriginal people will fight back to regain the land that has been lost to them.

* Close up of dead fox hanging over post at side of road, the camera pans as the teens walk past it. Both look on in silence. This is the third image like this and the animals have grown in size each time. More grotesque and inhumane deaths depicted each time. The cockatoo and the fox are both very unnatural images – they have been destroyed and desecrated by the intervention of man. Perhaps there is the suggestion that Australia has been destroyed to a degree by the white man’s ways. * Take shelter from the rain inside a church. Sacred place? Prompts a theological discussion. V: “If there is a God, he wouldn’t give two shits about me… No one does.” This is a moment in which the viewer may empathise with Vaughn. * They light a fire – a campfire in a church. Juxtaposition. Contrast. The indigenous and the European in harmonious union – suggestion that there is potential for a more peaceful future.

* Outside pub: Vaughn is captivated by a light, golden coloured horse. High angle shot of its head and one dark brown eye behind bars as Vaughn looks up at it. It is a similar story for boy and animal, and the image is a repeated scenario of Lena’s experience in the cornfield. * Close up shot of truck sign reads: “Country Meats” and it becomes apparent that the animal will be destroyed. Again, this serves as an analogy for Vaughn’s own life, as he too may venture down the road toward self-destruction. A sad reality for the horse, but Vaughn’s has the power to control his fate. * In the pub Lena is warmly welcomed by the bartender and approached by a young man named ‘Sean’ (an Irish name). None of the men in the pub detect her Aboriginal heritage, as made evident through their changed reaction to Vaughn as he enters.

Again, the term ‘boy’ is employed by the bartender. Medium shots of the other patrons eying him skeptically, and close up shots of Vaughn’s reaction to this. His anger is growing again. * Leaves enraged and goes to throw a rock at one of the cars parked outside. * Lena: “Vaughn. Vaughn. What do you think ya’ doin?” Her usual blunt tone and unimpressed facial expression is captured in a close up shot. * He has been made to feel inferior by the other men in the pub (something he hates) and importantly, Lena’s talking to Sean has stirred feelings of jealousy in him. She says: “I was only trying to get us a lift”, and it is the “us” that Vaughn picks up on in his returning dialogue. At this, he drops the rock and that action is a symbolic gesture which implies that he is ready to choose a different path; one other than violence and vandalism.

* An older, white man who was at the pub offers the two a lift. Well dressed and the extreme close up of the Mercedes badge on his car symbolizes his wealth. * Non-diegetic music plays – it is the same calm, yet haunting, instrumental melody that plays in a number of scenes. Lena looks from the photo of her father, to the scenery outside. Fog rolls over the green landscape outside and mirrors the same foggy setting captured in the photo. Different but same – perhaps she will find her identity in this place after all. Her closing of the album is a symbolic gesture that indicates her readiness to part with the past, and move forward independently. Ready to own up to her Aboriginality now. * Lena and Vaughn both fall asleep. The car is a safe environment for them. The lift is a kind gesture and though no dialogue between driver and passengers is exchanged at its conclusion, the silence and the smiles that Vaughn and the man give one another reflect the potential for healing. But that will only happen if both black and white change the ways they interact. * This man is pretty much the only decent white person in the whole film

* Continue walking along the road. Wide and high angle shots capture the awesomeness of their mountain surroundings. The diversity of the landscape is revealed. * Vaughn (looking up at the mountain): “It’s pretty, hey?” Lena does not reply and though Vaughn shares his grandfather’s story about the place, (the white men marched the black men to the top of the cliff precipice, then shot then and pushed them over the edge) Lena still does not admit to her heritage.

* Car trip with Vaughn’s friends. Quiet, older woman in back. Second submissive female. Looks up at the mountain, non-diegetic music plays again and the camera cuts to the road ahead, panning to show a factory admist the bush setting. Pollution of the natural environment and juxtaposition with the natural beauty and wonder of the rocky mountain face. Invasion of the land. * The boys in the car are tattooed and have piercings, one wears an eye patch and all look unkempt. They are obviously unemployed and one has a gun in his possession. Symbols of rebellion, crime and violence. Know that they are entering a corrupt and violent world. The 2Pac image is realised and viewers begin to understand the pull of those factors which have influenced Vaughn and led to his current situation. * Tracking image of power lines against bush scenery. Same as above. * Lady to Lena: “Where your people from girl?”

Finally, Vaughn is made aware of her true ancestry. It is quite significant that the only person to have detected her race is an elder – all the other Aboriginal characters completely miss it. * Police sirens sound and the car approaches in the rear view mirror. Drugs are thrown from the car – insinuation of addiction once more. * Scene with police: both are chewing gum and the action seems disrespectful. The term ‘boy’ is again employed and the tension between the races erupts in violent dispute. Angry black men versus arrogant white men in a position of power. The women don’t move. And the first acts of violence are white on black. * Vaughn is hit and at this, Lena steps from the car and picks up the police baton. The officer pauses for this white girl and Vaughn strikes him. Violence becomes black on white.

* They leave the scene of the crime: Friends discuss “getting out of here”. Driver to Vaughn: “You coming?” Look exchanged between Lena and Vaughn. * Vaughn’s reply: “Drop me home” is a very powerful one. Marks the moment of change for him and the viewer knows now that he will choose a different path for his future. * Blood on his face – a mark that he does not try to wipe away. Acceptance of his stained past, perhaps???

* At home: muted TV image of white and black women in combat – a game. What does this say about the races and the sexes??? * Bedroom: blood stained sheets and oxygen tank. Indicating signs of mother’s death. Extreme close up shot of clotted blood on sheet, gross! * Lena touches Vaughn’s shoulder in an effort to comfort him. Vaughn: “Don’t touch me. I said don’t fucking touch me.” Anger flares and he can’t accept her offer of support – too hardened by life experiences. Lena leaves. * Shots cut between Vaughn in the room and Lena outside. Separated again. * Extreme close up of Vaughn as he looks at a framed photo of him, his mother and sister. It is the same picture he carried earlier. Shattered glass of the frame symbolizes the fractured family unit. * The fact that the mother had the picture by her bed though, discounts Vaughn’s earlier assertions that she “didn’t give a shit.” * Catches his reflection in the dresser mirror. Throws an object at it and it shatters. He literally cannot stand to look at himself. This is another symbolic image. The reflection disappears after Vaughn himself takes action to destroy it. This symbolises the disappearance of the ‘old Vaughn’ and acknowledges the role that Vaughn himself will play in the formation of a new self.

* Diegetic police sirens sound in the background and jolt Vaughn to action. Non-diegetic music intensifies as Vaughn walks outside. Cuts to Lena, then back to Vaughn again. “Oh, fuck” and he runs in the opposite direction of the approaching sirens. Cuts to Lena as she approaches the train station, and back again to Vaughn who runs, dodges a police car and legs it. * The two meet on the train platform and a medium shot captures them standing in front of the wide, open carriage doors. Diegetic sounds of the announcement system convey that impending departure of the train. Both look to the doors, and then back to one another. No verbal communication is shared. Choice is evident. Realise that Vaughn will remain behind and face up to his wrongs – capable of owning his mistakes and accepting the consequences of his actions now. A different and brighter future awaits him, but it cannot occur until he pays his dues.

* They embrace. Extreme close up shot of Vaughn’s face catches a single tear. Lena boards the train. * Out train window – factories and warehouses. Cuts to Lena standing in the moving carriage and the camera zooms to show her crying as well. She too has been changed by their meeting. Both have been moved and transformed by their brief, but important relationship. Through it, they have discovered more about themselves and their place in the world (or Australia). * End shot: camera pans upward from the train tracks to the sky and settles in a bird’s eye view. The tracks serve as vectors that lead the eye to the horizon beyond, in which the iconic Sydney skyline is evident. We know that Lena will complete her journey to Sydney, but there is the sense that she will not seek out her father. Choosing instead to carve her own path.

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