FORCE OF DESTINY, Australia, 2015. Starring David Wenham, Shahana Goswami, Jacqueline McKenzie, Hannah Friedricksen, Terry Norris, Genevieve Picot, Kim Gyngell, Deidre Rubenstein. Directed by Paul Cox. 109 minutes. Rated MA (No consumer advice given).
Paul Cox is one of Australia’s most celebrated film directors. He has been making films since the 1960s, quite prolific, sometimes a film each year, working on small budgets – but a man who was often cranky, critical of the government, eccentric in his presentation of his stories, yet provocative and evocative storyteller nonetheless, an explorer of human nature.
Some years ago, Paul Cox was diagnosed with liver cancer and given a short time to live. However, he was approved to be placed on a donor list, and ready for the possibility of a transplant if a liver became available. In fact, a liver did become available and Cox experienced the transplant, resuming his career but devoting much of it to appreciation of what had happened to him and an appeal to the general public to be organ donors.
This is his fictional story.
The central character, Paul Cox’s alter ego, is a sculptor called Robert, played with his usual strength and charm by David Wenham. Wenham is younger in age than Cox was at the time of his illness. Cox has always been interested in a variety of arts as well as his cinema work and this is evident in this film, not only in Robert’s sculpting work and the camera’s eye for detail about his work and exhibition, but also introducing a great deal of music, and also dance.
The other central character in the story is an Indian woman, Maya, Shahana Goswami, an attractive personality, who is introduced to Robert and they become friends. Robert has been married but is separated from his wife, Hannah, Jacqueline McKenzie, and they have a daughter who is devoted to him, Poppy, Hannah Friedrichsen. These characters move in and out of Robert’s life, his ex-wife wanting to be a support but his finding her sometimes intrusive, but he always has time for his loving daughter. The friendship with Maya increases, her taking him to a concert, experiencing Indian songs and dancing, the visit to her dying uncle, a wise figure in her life, and her returning to India at the time of his death.
The friendship moves into love and sexual companionship, especially important for Robert as he thinks he is about to die.
Other characters, in Cox fashion, include cameos from longtime friends including Kim Gyngell as a doctor, Terry Norris as Robert’s father, Deidre Rubenstein as a gallery director.
Most of Cox’s films are also characterised by a particular visual style, the inclusion of home movie material, sometimes blurred in movement, but challenging the audience to think about the characters in a different way – and there is quite a deal of footage like this in this film.
The audience knows that ultimately there is happy ending, that Robert will receive a transplant and that it will be successful, as happened to Cox and his experience in making this film. The writing, Robert’s voice-over reflections, and empathy with Robert and his situation, mean that the audience identifies with the character and the situation, sharing it, its alarm, its psychological and physical pain, the emotional repercussions, the need for independence yet the sometimes desperate in the for support.
On interest in itself and its theme of organ donation, it is, of course, a must for those who have been following Paul Cox’s life and career.
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released September 17th 2015.