A father’s determination to find his sons takes him on the spiritual journey of a lifetime
After the bloody Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I, Joshua Connor and his wife presume their three dear sons are dead.After Lizzie, Connor’s wife, finds the heartache is too much to bear, Connor sets out on a journey to bring his boys home to be laid to rest in Australia. But upon his rocky arrival in the former Turkish war zone, he finds he has reason for hope: one of his sons may have survived. Let’s stop right here. You’re probably going to cry. Just get up and go see the film. I mean it. Go.No part of this picture missed its mark. Crowe might be a well-known veteran amongst actors but he's a relative newcomer to the field of directing. Despite this he proves very capable and with producer Ridley Scott, not to mention a collaborative filming effort from both Australia and Turkey, The Water Diviner does just what cinema is supposed to: tell a beautiful story.
One of the most memorable elements of Crowe’s filmmaking was the disruption of the audio and visuals. Myriad times, we hear the sounds of spade shoveling sandy earth whilst watching something else, either the preacher's face, or the passing of time as Connor makes his way down the dusty Australian road. Also commendable and an effective storytelling device is the use of flashbacks. When Connor is sensing where his sons’ bodies lie, we see visually the way the battle played out four years prior for the brothers.
Whether Connor actually sees this too, we don’t know, but the imprint of the event seems magnetic, drawing Connor in the right direction. We know magnetism is what Connor uses to divine where he’ll strike water (hence the title of the film), and it’s certainly symbolic in the way he manages to instinctually locate his boys. We see a father hell-bent on his mission and determined not to give up on his children. His duty lies with them, and this is his purpose for the search: love.
Another particularly poignant element of the film was the development of Connor’s relationship with Ottoman Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan). I find period films are becoming better at fairness and three-dimensionalities, and I was certainly anything but disappointed by The Water Diviner’s portrayal. Complemented further by Jai Courtney’s compassionate but realistic Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Hughes, the realities of war for both the Turks and the Anzac’s are not overlooked by either side, but they both accept that war means loss of life.
Lt.-Cnl. Hughes reveals to Connor that the Anzacs took few prisoners, the same as the Ottomans. He shows sound presence of mind amidst an incomprehensible occurrence. Deeply understanding and empathetic of this concept, it was a film that sheds the light of perspective on both sides, neither assuming the role of villain. (This representation of equality may also be a result of global film distribution, a more recent focal point of cinema, with some financial reasons behind the choice. Yet as the world becomes smaller, it is the duty of filmmakers to reveal viewpoints we, as an audience, aren’t used to seeing - but perhaps should.)
We see a father determined not to give up on his children. His duty lies with them, and this is his purpose for the search: love.
The writing was spot on and ushered the plot ahead, along with the superb editing, whilst still pausing for meaningful moments of insight and character development. Ayeshe, the hotel manager and played by Olga Kurylenko, forms an unexpected bond with Connor. As they get to know each other better, instead of contempt for him as an Australian, she finds she has compassion for him as a father, expressing to him:
“I measure a man by how much he loves his children, not by what the world has done to them.”
The colouring of the film was slightly yellowed, suggesting age, but a different age to that of say unsaturated World War II depictions. The colouring in combination with costuming creates the reality we see, and must choose to accept or deny, on screen. It was neither distracting nor glaringly obvious. I found it added to the setting and was a fine choice for the story.
The music’s fidelity to Turkish culture served it and bolstered the authenticity of the picture. It also acted as a vessel for cultural awareness, the same vessel that allowed a Western eye to see the heart of what it means to be a Muslim. In our news today, we are bombarded by current events and constant strife in the Middle East. Throughout The Water Diviner, we are invited to see the love and respect Muslims have for Allah through their music, the Blue Mosque, and the gentler side of devotion.
They are presented as a peace-loving people, something we need reminding of whilst the religion of Islam is being battered today by people who only claim it for their own purposes. I applaud this most heartily. So often people blame religion for man’s actions, when what we need to be addressing are the people skewing religion’s intention. I do not wish to create an argument around religion here, but consideration and awareness are truly invaluable. If the film can open that dialogue and ignite the desire for understanding amongst all fellow human beings, I cannot deny that pleases me.
The essence of the film was multifaceted: perseverance, love, determination, friendship... the list goes on. But what I found most touching was a moment between Ayeshe and Connor, when he explains to her:
“Hope’s a necessity where I come from.”
I would wager hope is a necessity, no matter where one comes from. And I promise, you will walk out of The Water Diviner with possibly a few tears shed and a little extra hope in your heart.
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