Tim Winton’s novel, ‘That eye, the sky’ is a powerful exploration of such themes as loneliness, isolation and maturity within the context of Australian family life and landscape. These themes, which come to represent serious and grave difficulties for the protagonists, are explored somewhat differently across the mediums of film and text. John Ruane’s cinematic interpretation of Tim Winton’s text provides a useful and constructive alternative perspective of these thematic difficulties.
The Australian Family depicted in ‘That eye, the sky’ is the quintessential Australian country family. The depiction of the Flack family in the novel describes the stereotypical image of the Australian family. More…They live in a country cottage with chickens in the yard, holes in the asbestos wall sheeting and Sam Flack, the head of this house, drives a Ute. This description places the family in a stereotypical Australian place. The narrator in the novel, Ort, provides the reader with an insight into life as a member of the Flack family. For example, the reader can understand what Ort is thinking, when he… This example shows us the thought process that Ort goes through and the reader views his perspective of his family. In the film, the casting of Jamie Croft as Ort is believable and appears as one would imagine. Not only is the image of Ort believable but also how and what he thinks provides the viewer with a greater insight into the family. The film, however, misses out on important scenes, such as Ort’s first day of school and his mother’s attendance at Church. It is sad that the important scenes in the novel weren’t in the film as they reflect Ort’s changing world. Ort has to suddenly grow up and is a confused, young boy. Ort’s life changed after his father’s accident and he admitted frequently in the novel that “he had grown up” (Source) In the film this progression to maturity is not as evident as it is in the novel. Ort is guided in his Quest for maturity by his mother who is loving and caring and looks out for him. Alice, however, has her own issues and this then isolates her from her children as she struggles to work through her issues. In the novel, Alice is stronger, she is robust and she attempts to keep her family together. She is reflective of the Australian mum keeping her family together at a low point in their lives. As well, Tegwyn, the daughter is struggling. She is angry and aggressive in the book, yet in the film she is not portrayed as this angry. Like her brother, she is confused and upset with her family situation and can’t really see a way out of her life. In the film Tegwyn’s clothes demonstrate how she feels. For example, one day she wore black leather to visit her father in the hospital, her dark clothes reflect her moods. In many ways, the family is struggling. There is also Gramma, who lives with the family and is senile. She is dotty but is on the fringe of the family. She potters around the farm in the film and the family then spend time taking her back to her room or the cottage. The family is placed in a setting that makes them rely on each other for support and this stresses the family. This is, however, typical of an Australian family, responding and dealing with daily stresses and managing competing demands. The Flack family in both the film and the novel, are images that are associated with the typical Australian Family.
The Australian landscape is used in ‘That eye, the sky” to depict the feelings of the characters in a powerful manner. This is evident in both the novel and the film. Winton uses the landscape to appeal to the imagination and senses of the reader. For example, in the novel “the eye blinks down” (page 8) on Ort and he feels the heat of the sun. In the film, the eye appears to beat down on Ort and provides Ort with strength. This gives him courage to continue moving through the challenges he is facing. This example demonstrates the power of the sky in orts life. It is a theme that recurs constantly in the novel.
As well, the landscape is a hot, desert type environment. This contributes to the overall picture of heat, desolation and the isolation of the family within this landscape. In the novel, Winton describes the “hot wind” in the morning which makes the “brown grass live over and it makes the dead leaves fly and it brings the smell of the desert” (page 70) into the family home. In the film, the shots of the landscape focused on the auditory by allowing viewers to hear Gramma’s feet crackling on the dry grass and the noise that is made when Tegwyn jump into the river and the birds all fly away in a sudden. Another Australian landscape that evokes in the viewer a sense of country is when there is a shot of Mr. Cherry’s petrol station. Outside the station was a sign of a kangaroo and an endless road stretching into nowhere. As the sun set, the hues of the sun’s rays were accentuated by the blueness of the sky. This was clearly evident in the film. By using the Australian landscape to define the mood and atmosphere in the novel and the film, the effects are incredible. The audience is drawn into this family who are struggling to survive. Yet the landscape around them is stunning and whilst Ort appreciates its beauty, his family are drawn to the mundane details of life. The sene of placing the Flack family in this time and place evokes a feeling that the landscape is immense and family is only a small part of this. It is quintessentially Australian and combined with music has a dramatic effect on the audience.
The relevance of the cloud in the novel is , however, far more dramatic in its reading than in the viewing in the film. This has a lot to do with the type of effects used by the producer in the film. Ort dreams of the cloud as a protector in the novel – something that watches over his family and is a secure part of his life. In the film the cloud is not the “woolly sheep” that Ort describes in the novel. Instead, it is wispy, small and has too much blue in it. The flat landscape depicted in the film is similar to the novel, although there is no sense of the forest in the film. The forest that is in the novel, which is a major part of the Flack family’s life does not exist in the film. This detracts from the film as the main motive was to be near the trees that they all loved so much. Without the forest, the film is not as committed to developing the urban fringe dwelling landscape, that is developed in the novel.
The landscape is an important aspect of both the novel and the film. It allows the audience in both cases to be drawn into the family and exaggerates there difficulties. Without the harshness of the environment impacting on the family this sense of importance may not have been as relevant. By placing the family in this landscape, however, the landscape can be used to greater effect.
The Flack family has to come to terms with many difficulties in their lives throughout the novel and the film. Loneliness and isolation are two difficulties that the family has to face both before and after Sam’s accident. The family also deal with other difficulties such as money, respect and so on, however, loneliness and isolation are the two most event difficulties that all the family members have to deal with. All the characters in the novel and film suffer from loneliness and they all deal with it in different ways. For example in both the film and novel, Alice, has to deal with difficulties such as loneliness, isolation, money, betrayal. In the story Alice is lonely due to isolation of the farm and the love of her life, Sam, being crippled in a car accident. She also has financial difficulties as the breadwinner of the family is unable to provide for the family. Alice is also betrayed by both Tegwyn, her daughter, and Henry, who end up leaving her to care for the whole family instead of helping her to do so. Alice deals with these difficulties in many ways, but the thing that pulls her through is her love of Sam and the wanting she has to comfort him and help him towards a recovery. It is evident that the difficulty and theme of loneliness effects Alice as she almost gives into temptation when she goes to kiss Henry in the film. The director may have chosen to add this into the storyline in the film as it emphasises her loneliness and longing to be close with another person. In the novel Ort does notice that Alice is wearing special clothes and doing her hair, but it is not emphasised as much as in the film. Sam and Gramma are touched by similar difficulties as they both are unable to communicate and express their ideas and thoughts, this is evident in both the film and the novel, however, in the film Gramma does recall memories. The state that Gramma and Sam are in makes them lonely and isolated as they are unable to be a part of the family and are in their own worlds. Ort, often seems to be in his own world as well. He has no other boy of his own age to talk to after Fat leaves and he is unable to communicate with his father, who was his best mate, after his accident. The novel emphasises Orts loneliness and isolation more than the film, as the everything in the novel is seen from just Orts eyes. For example, in the novel Ort starts high school. There he is referred to as a melon, he has no friends and as a result spends his time in the library looking up sex in the encyclopaedia. Ort also has to deal with many other difficulties such as puberty, unhappiness and worry as he doesn’t know how to make his sister happy, he also worries about religion, the eye in the sky and his father. It can be seen through both the novel and the film that Ort is a lonely person. This is evident when he adopts a chicken to befriend him as there is no one else in his life that can play that role in his life. Ort learns and grows during this hard time in his life and the life of his family. He confronts these challenges by taking each day as it comes, and accepts things as they come, he reflects on the situation and develops critical thinking skills and asking open ended questions. This is not evident in the film to the extent as it is in the novel, it also makes the viewers less involved with his life and thinking. The sense of Ort in the novel is different from the sense of Ort in the film.
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