Housewife Implosions in Rain: Beyond Proper Comprehension. (New Zealand in Focus)

By Message, Kylie | Metro Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Housewife Implosions in Rain: Beyond Proper Comprehension. (New Zealand in Focus)


Message, Kylie, Metro Magazine


IN THE OPENING SCENES OF RAIN (Christine Jeffs, 2001), the funky, evocative soundtrack combines with the slow motion drawl of a hand-pushed lawn mower to seduce the viewer into relating to the rhythms of lazy summer days. Although these are the days of a specific childhood in 1972, they also appear universal and timeless. Occupying the time and space of memory in general, this is the 'bach' (holiday house) that dad built, and this is the family that spends every summer holiday on the verandah or the beach.

HOWEVER, AS INDICATED BY the first lines of dialogue, 'It was sunny ... mostly' and 'our house was on the water ... well ... nearly', there is something slightly awry with the family that has come for yet another year to the 'bach' that they know as well as they know each other. This 'mostly' and 'nearly' indicate a disruption from the norm that cannot easily be explained away. Indeed, this disruption comes to embody the centrally destabilizing theme of defamiliarization that runs throughout the film. The directorial debut for Christine Jeffs, Rain is narrated from the perspective of 13-year-old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki), who becomes aware that her mother, Kate (Sarah Peirse), is having an affair with itinerant photographer, Cady (Marton Csokas). Herself playing on the fringes of adulthood, Janey begins to experience the disruption that will eventually envelop her father, Ed (Alistair Browning), and her younger brother, Jim (Aaron Murphy), too. Despite the idyllic surroundings, the viewer gets the sense that this family is on the verge of breakdown.

Whilst the summer days are filled with quietude for the adults and swimming, games and laughter for the children, the family's fragmentation is heralded by the scenes of raucous, racy nighttime parties that fill the viewer with feelings of concern and alarm. With alcohol flowing liberally, the children are physically present but somehow invisible and forgotten by the adults. Allowed to do their own thing, they become witness (or victim) to inappropriate and frightening adult conversations and behaviour that is beyond their proper comprehension. They see Cady and Kate flirt with each other while other guests recklessly dash off for swims in the midnight sea. Drunk, the adults perform in strangely menacing ways as their bodies contort in rhythm with the records being played.

Rain's party scenes call to mind the terrible parties of Once Were Warriors (Lee Tamahori, 1995), where people dance and sing, while teenage daughter Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell) is abused by an uncle in another room. In Rain, this threat is suggested when an inebriated friend of her parents speaks to Janey whilst mixing cocktails. In both these important New Zealand films, the narrative reveals the family unit to be at risk of a domestic disturbance that is put into play by outsiders, but which only happens because the family itself is already in the process of imploding. The conditions for this destruction have already been well-established by Kate and Ed's drinking and inactivity in Rain, and by socio-economic depression and drinking in Once Were Warriors. Indeed, the family in Rain is in many ways the white, middle-class equivalent of the Heke family. Despite their socio-economic privilege (the 'bach' they holiday in occupies a spot of exquisite beauty, and images of this echo the scene of natural beauty that is familiar to the Heke's only through the billboard image that is positioned nearby their council home alongside an urban motorway), they are represented as being subject to many of the same internal pressures.

Located within a 'domestic disturbance' genre of cinema, Rain has similarities with films that include The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997), and Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese, 1991). Not only do these films all tell respective stories of family disintegration, they focus on illustrating what happens to the small, nuanced everyday moments that continue (the dishes are washed, and the lawns mowed) despite the disturbance that reframes the family unit. …

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