I wrote this during an 80-minute business studies class when I probably should have been paying attention.
Wake in Fright (1971)
Dir. Ted Kotcheff
“He curs’d him in sleeping, that every night
He should dream of the devil, and wake in a fright”
-Richard Harris Barham, The Jackdaw of Rheims
There are two warring factions in Wake in Fright; The civilized man (represented by John Grant) and the uncivilized man (represented by the people of Bundanyabba). Clarence F. “Doc” Tydon is the middle ground between the two extremes. Doc has, seemingly by choice, fallen onto the path of the uncivilized, be he’s also intelligent and well-spoken enough to pass as civilized if he wanted to. How many people in the Yabba would be able to quote Socrates?
Between Grant and the people of the Yabba, it’s oddly Grant who seems the most hostile. Looking down at them with disgust “The arrogance of stupid people insisting you should be as stupid as they are”. Though quite matey and fighty, the people of the Yabba are never hostile, certainly not towards Grant.
In the end, it’s Grant that causes his own downfall. Grant decides to gamble his money away, decides to drink with Time Hynes, tries to sleep with Janet, goes hunting, keeps drinking. Grant chooses to do all this. One key scene is when Grant wakes up in Doc’s shack. He makes his excuses and is about to leave, he opens the door, stops and turns around. Then he starts speaking again “You see, I’m the school teacher at Tiboonda”. It’s worth noting that Doc doesn’t so much as say a word to stop Grant from Leaving.
As Grant is attempting to leave the Yabba, he dumps his books from his suitcase. Among them, Socrates, Plato. Grant’s objectively superior knowledge and intellect are useless out here. Like the books, it’s just weighing him down. At this point, Grant is a different person than the man who arrived in the Yabba three days ago.
Knowledge? Learning? Useless to the Yabba man. Of course, they already know that. The people of the Yabba have accepted their fate and seem to embrace it with open arms. “It’s death to farm out here and it’s worse than death in the mines. Do you want them to sing opera as well?”
Grant is smarter in the general sense, but he’s arrogant and seemingly blind to any worldview other than his own. The people of the Yabba lack much formal education, but they seem almost wiser. A more basic life of the bare necessities. Money, the occasional sexual encounter, and a seemingly endless supply of beer.
Doc is what Grant seems to be becoming. The middle ground. By the end of the story, Doc is still the smartest person shown to us. He understands both worldviews, something neither grant or people of the Yabba do, but he made his choice. He explains his reasons and moves to the uncivilized side, but he still recognizes Grant’s position. Doc does not feel as Grant does, Doc made a choice, whereas Grant feels forced. Grant blames Doc for everything and tries to kill him, but in the end, he turns the gun on who is really responsible. And who do you think saves his life?
When Grant boards the train to the Yabba, he is offered a drink, but he acts as if the people in the back of the carriage don’t exist. He ignores them completely. On the train back to Tiboonda, he is again offered a drink. This time, he accepts it without hesitation.
Grant does not and will not become Doc. When he arrives back in Tiboonda, he sees Charlie sitting on his porch, drinking a beer. “Did you have a good holiday?” “The best”. Grant walking inside, but the camera stays on Charlie. He smiles and gives out a small laugh. He’s seen it all before. Give it twenty or thirty years, and Grant will be sitting in that chair.