Long Weekend: The dugong that won’t die

Long Weekend: The dugong that won’t die
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On a long weekend camping trip to a lonely beach, Peter and Marcia confront the despair of their marriage, as nature takes revenge on them.

In this clip, Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) drive down the beach to check out the other campers; they are missing, but their van is visible in the breakers. Peter swims out to investigate and sees the body of a girl inside. Rushing back to camp, they pass the dead dugong Peter shot earlier – except that Marcia believes it is still alive. Cricket the dog has gone missing. In a furious panic, Marcia tells Peter the dog died and she buried it. When he refuses to leave without it, she kicks him between the legs and locks herself in the car, which he has immobilised by switching off the battery.

The dugong is the film’s oddest and creepiest device – both a symbol of the white despoliation of Australia (because it has been hunted out) and Marcia’s mourning, after her abortion. She is haunted by noises that may have come from this mother’s dying cries for her lost calf. Peter has killed the dugong, just as he has killed their marriage and, thinks Marcia, their baby. It’s no accident that she kicks him between the legs. There’s also a strange visual rhyme between the doll on the beach and the child drowned in the car – long flowing blonde hair and a dull expression, as if one foreshadows the other. The death in this other camp is never quite explained, but there are many similarities between the two camp sites. It could almost be read as a kind of time shift, except that it’s shown as happening in the here and now. These elements of fantasy and the supernatural made the film popular at mystery and fantasy festivals in Europe, where it won several awards, including best film at the 1978 Sitges Film Festival in Spain, the world’s leading festival devoted to fantasy film.