Jasper Jones is an Australian film from a novel adapted for the screenplay by author Craig Silvey (2009) in the true old Aussie tradition of mateship, about two schoolfriends who help each other out, displaying true courage in the face of fear.
The story is set in a regional town in Western Australia Corrigan (the town of Pemberton), which has timber houses built between the 1920’s and 1950’s and cars suitable to the period, ensuring Jasper Jones is nostalgic picturesque viewing.
Directed by Rachel Perkins, Jasper Jones has a stellar cast, including award winners Toni Collette and Hugo Weaving, with Levi Miller, Angourie Rice, Kevin Long, Dan Wyllie and Aaron McGrath as Jasper Jones
Not much is happening in town when we arrive, just two local lads Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) and his best mate Jeffrey (Kevin Long) a cricket enthusiast on a large scale whose parents were Vietnamese immigrants, having a discussion about what constitutes the characteristics of a comic book superhero out of Spiderman, Superman and Batman.
While it may be the swinging sixties in other regions of the world, in the outback towns of Australia racial tensions still run rife, where immigrants children and aboriginals, in particular half cast children, are always blamed for everything bad that happens, mostly by the elitist white boys at school.
When it all boils down to it, Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) decides his hero just has to be Batman. He doesn’t have the other two’s distinct superpower advantage, but instead is an ordinary man wearing a suit, which helps the courage factor.
So he’s a gender role model for Charlie, a boy standing on the precipice of manhood, who lives in his world of books; while his father is locked up in his study writing one.
It is 1969 and Charlie has recently borrowed a book from the local library by American literary giant Mark Twain in which he reads the now famous quote; courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear
Little does he know it but Charlie is about to be tested to the limit of his own courage.
In a very short time he will have to work out what he values most, deal with the finality and distress surrounding sudden death, the unwarranted prejudices inflicted on the few by others, real racial tension, the infidelity of his own mother and a great deal more than any other young man aged 13-14 may have to face going on with, while working out whom he can trust. It may not be the local police Sargeant!
Jasper Jones the movie is the story of Charlie Bucktin and the adventure in life and courage that he goes on with his older school friend 16-17 year old Jasper (Aaron McGrath).
It is late one night when Jasper knocks on the louvre windows that section off the space that is his bedroom on the verandah. It’s a common occurrence of that time, when an open verandah from an earlier and more genteel age was put to a new purpose. Glass louvres slip in and out of place easily, meaning that Charlie can get in and out of his room in a hurry without his parents knowing, and it is on this he relies.
Jasper Jones has become used to prejudice, he’s lived with it his whole life.
Like many half cast aboriginal boys his age in the 60’s he is illiterate and doesn’t enjoy any real advantages, except perhaps just one. He’s been keeping a big secret; he’s in love with a local white girl Laura Wishart and they are planning to run away together to the city.
Prior to calling on Charlie whom he believes is the one boy from his school instinctively he trusts to help him, Jasper has been off picking fruit out on the farms to get money, leaving for days at a time without telling Laura, a fact that will have tragic consequences no one could have really foreseen.
It’s a hot summer night when Jasper knocks on Charlie Bucktin’s window asking him to help him by coming on a journey in the night with him to a secret place. Crossing fields and traversing country roads on their way into a thickly wooded area outside town Jasper brings Charlie to where a huge eucalyptus tree overhangs a waterhole where the lovely Laura, his dead girlfriend, is hanging by the neck from a branch. It is very distressing for them both.
Charlie’s keen to inform the police but Jasper knows what that will mean for him – beatings in jail and being accused of a crime he did not commit. He tells Charlie he wants his help to hide the body so he has the time to prove she has been killed by the mad recluse mad Jack Lionel (Hugh Weaving) who lives on the edge of town.
Old Jack is already the butt of the rumour mills that have been going around for years telling stories about how he once killed a local woman decades ago and hung her up in the local abbatoir. It’s a word of mouth story everyone in town already knows and it fits this crime, well at least for Jasper.
The well-read Charlie however is a thinker and can’t understand why anyone would murder a young woman on the verge of living a full life. He thinks the clue may lie with her sister Eliza (Angourie Rice) whom he is sweet on, but needs time to work it out too. So he and Jasper hide the body before disappearing back into the night and their lives.
Levi Miller who features as Charlie Bucktin is a young Australian actor of great promise, having already starred in a number of great movies in the last few years, including Peter Pan in the Warner Bros. film Pan, co-starring Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund and Rooney Mara.
It was his first major film role and, at the age of 12 he was cast after a worldwide search. In Jasper Jones he is truly superb in the role of Charlie Bucktin, a young man with a conscience and a clear sense of what is wrong and right.
Seasoned young actor Aaron McGrath is also marvelous as Jasper, as indeed are the whole cast of this movie in their defining roles, including Toni Collette as Charlie’s mother Ruth, Matt Nable as the local police sergeant, Dan Wyllie as Wes Charlie’s father and Kevin Long as his best mate Jeffrey Lu.
However the biggest gong surely has to go to Hugo Weaving as Mad Jack Lionel. He is basically sublime in this stunning cameo performance.
Superbly understated, Weaving plays his misunderstood character with shining intensity and a great depth of sensitivity. His is a generous performance, the sort that comes out of eons of experience and by genuinely understanding who his character is; he’s surely one of the best actors we have ever had in the scheme of things in Australia.
Basically, I don’t want to spoil the developing story of this riveting Australian drama, which has had great love lavished upon it by a committed cast and crew. You need to pay them all the compliment of seeing this Australian movie gem for yourself, and soon.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Directed by Rachel Perkins
In Cinemas Now
Watch the Trailer