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Wake in Fright: Breaking the rules

Title:
Wake in Fright: Breaking the rules
NFSA ID:
782560
Year:
1971
Category:
Access fees

A young schoolteacher loses all his money in an outback two-up game, while en route to Sydney. In the next two days he loses a lot more – self-respect, inhibitions, almost his life.

In this clip, Grant (Gary Bond) is full of remorse, nursing a bad hangover. Somehow, he has ended up staying with 'Doc’ Tydon (Donald Pleasence), who lives in a shack on the outskirts of town. The doctor taunts him about his failure the previous night with Janette Hynes. The doctor explains that he and Janette have an understanding – a sexual relationship based on mutual need, nothing more. Grant’s discomfort is relieved when Dick (Jack Thompson) and Joe (Peter Whittle) arrive to go hunting kangaroos.

There’s a strong ambiguity in the film’s depiction of outback life. It’s to do with the question of freedom in a civil society – a very old question in moral philosophy. Grant comes to believe that 'Doc’ Tydon is the cause of his degradation and moral collapse, but as this scene shows, the doctor is simply an honest man about human appetites and failings. He enjoys taunting Grant because he knows that he has tried to have sex with Janette Hynes (Sylvia Kay) the previous evening, but could not perform.

This question of sexual inadequacy is part of a larger question – what does it mean to be a man? In the definition of most men in 'The Yabba’, that means ignoring women, in favour of male pursuits such as drinking, 'roo shooting, fighting and gambling. Grant thinks he’s above all these – until he’s offered them. The film is constantly focusing on hypocrisies – but not just the kind we see in the policeman, or the poker machine players in the club (see clip one). 'Doc’ Tydon is actually the only man in the film who has no illusions about himself. 'I’m a doctor of medicine and a tramp by temperament’, he says at one point. 'I’m also an alcoholic’.

There’s a good deal of latent homosexuality in the early part of the film; this becomes literal later, when Grant and the doctor return home from the 'roo shooting. It’s unseen but the inference that the two men have had some kind of sexual contact is clear. We’re not sure if it was coercive or not, but it drives Grant’s self-disgust in the second half. Again, the theme is the same: what is it to be a man?