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November 07, 2017

Denver Film Festival - Jasper Jones


Rachel Perkins - 2017
Film Movement

This quote from Australian novelist Craig Silvey pretty much sums up Jasper Jones - "I've always been attracted to Southern Gothic fiction. There's something very warm and generous about those regional American writers like Twain and Lee and Capote, and it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition."

Silvey's novel provided the basis for the film, and Silvey also co-wrote the screenplay. As much as I am usually resistant to coming of age stories, this one is worth looking into because of a less familiar location, western Australia. Taking place in 1969, the film appears to be period accurate without bogging the narrative down with nostalgia for the past. The quote is especially appropriate with a shot of teenage Charlie reading Mark Twain, and glancing through a copy of In Cold Blood, while tentative girlfriend Eliza has a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's after seeing the film several times. Harper Lee isn't directly referenced, but there is a sense of connection to To Kill a Mockingbird with the youth of the main characters, the small town scandal, the racism, and the acknowledgment by the kids that adults can be lacking in wisdom.

Even though he's the title character, Jasper Jones is not the center of the narrative. A teen, a few years older than Charlie, Jones is the mixed race kid, half Aborigine, half white, that is pegged as the town troublemaker. When a young girl is found hanged outside of town, Jones is certain that he will be accused of murder, and enlists Charlie to help him hide the body, at least until it can be determined who murdered the girl. Most of the film follows Charlie as he deals with this secret, his friendship with Eliza, the sister of the hanged girl, his parents and their uneasy relationship, and a town that seems stuck in a past era. The events take place during the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

The story would have personal meaning for Rachel Perkins, with her own racial background, and growing up with a father, Charles Perkins, who was a noted activist for the rights of the Aboriginal people. Much of the political aspects from the novel have been eliminated to emphasize the murder-mystery. Toni Collette plays Charlie's often exasperated mother, while Hugo Weaving is seen briefly as the town recluse, something like Silvey's version of Boo Radley.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 7, 2017 07:36 AM