Beneath Clouds (2002)





Director:     Ivan Sen. 

Starring:     Dannielle Hall (Lena), Damian Pitt (Vaughn), Jenna Lee Connors (Ty), Simon Swan (Jimmy), Mundurra Weldon (Liam), Athol French (Kevy), Judy Duncan (Jen), Kevin Pitt (Smiley), Arthur Dignam (Old Man).

racial experience between Lena (mixed-caste) & Vaughn (a Murri boy)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Curse words, mostly the F word.

Lena and Ty live in a mixed-cast area.  They walk to a bus stop and Ty goes across the street to a gas station.  While Ty is gone, two young boys on bikes ride up to Lena.  Lena talks with her brother named Liam and Liam wants to know if she has any money.  She asks him:  "Where's your money?"  Liam answers:  "Got none."  A police car slows down to have a look at the three youngsters, but the police officers don't stop.  The boys ride off. 

Ty returns with some food.  She tells Lena that she thinks she's pregnant.  Lena says:  "You're never going to get out of this shit-hole, Ty.  You know that, don't you?"  One of the darker boys across the road calls Ty over to him.  Ty says goodbye to Lena and goes back to the gas station.  Lena starts walking again.  She sees Liam and his friend being taken by the police and put in the back of the police car.  The police have with them quite a few cartons of cigarettes, possibly stolen by the kids.  Lena has a rather vacant look in her eyes.

She returns home to a house that is pretty run down.  She goes inside and mother is drinking a big bottle of beer, with two empty bottles of beer on the table beside her.  Mom tells Lena:  "I've warned him plenty of times, Lena.  Give me a fucking break from him anyway."  Lena tells her mother:  "You don't give a shit about us, do you?"  Mom responds:  "You shut your mouth, Lena."  Lena goes on:  "Look at you.  You're a fucking disgrace."  Dad threatens to hit Lena unless she starts showing some respect to them.  She goes to her room. 

Lena sits on the bed and pulls out her scrapbook.  Her biological father is white.   

Lena gets on the bus.  She watches Ty and her boyfriend.  The bus pulls out and heads down the highway. 

An Aborigine fellow named Vaughn is with others pruning some pine trees.  A police officer watches over them as they work.  Vaughn cuts a V in the bark of one of the trees.  A white kid looks over at Vaughn and the mixed-caste fellow says:  "What are you fucking looking at, hey, white boy?  Yeah, you mind your own fucking business."  A white man tells Vaughn to knock it off.  Vaughn tells the man that he's not going to boss him around.  Finally, the police officer has to warn Vaughn.  Vaughn is a real hot head and he approaches the white man looking for a fight.  Again the police officer has to warn Vaughn to behave himself.

The officer gets a call on his walkie-talkie saying that Vaughn has a visitor.  The officer asks the fellow is he sure that it's Vaughn who has a visitor?  Yep.  He walks behind Vaughn over to the locked gates.  It's his pregnant sister, who has brought him a coke and some smokes.  She tells Vaughn that he is going to be an uncle soon.  The sister also tells him that mom is real sick.  Vaughn says:  "Yeah, well, it serves the bitch right."  The guard indicates that it's time to go.  All he says to his sister is:  "I got to go." 

Vaughn's roommate is a young kid named Jimmy.  Jimmy says that he thought for sure that Vaughn was going to kill that poor white boy today.  He asks Vaughn who was at the gate?  Vaughn just says:  "No one."  Vaughn also says he doesn't have any family. 

Early in the morning, a milk truck comes into the compound.  Vaughn wakes up. 

The bus is heading for Sydney.  The driver stops at a gas station.  Lena wipes her eyes.  Lena goes into the station and gets some food.  She sits down at a small table inside.  She eats greasy sausage with a chocolate bar.  A commercial on the TV is about cleaning toilet bowls and Lena feels sick to her stomach.  She heads for the bathroom and throws up.  And now she misses her bus.  She sits down at a bus stop.  The milk truck that was at the compound, now stops at this gas station.  When the coast is clear, Vaughn pulls back the sliding door and hops out.  He drinks some milk he stole from out of the truck and stands at the bus stop.  He keeps looking at her and she asks if he is all right?  He starts walking in the direction of Sydney and Lena soon follows him. 

Vaughn lets Lena pass him and he walks behind her.  A white woman in a car passes by the hitch-hiking fellow, but stops to give Lena a ride.  When Vaughn comes running up to the car to get a ride too, the white woman takes off leaving both people behind.  Lena gives him a dirty look and he asks:  "What?"  They both keep walking.  He starts talking to Lena.  She asks him what are those workers doing out in that huge field?  They are working in a cotton field weeding.  Lena says they look like a bunch of slaves working.  Vaughn says well, that's all right for her, because she's white and doesn't have to do that kind of work.  Lena does not let on that she is mixed-caste.  She tells him she's from Ireland.  He mentions that she doesn't talk like the Irish leprechauns. 

Vaughn sticks out his thumb as a car passes by.  Lena tells him:  "No one's going to stop for you."  But the next car does stop for him.  That's because the driver knows Vaughn.  The driver asks Vaughn if his friend wants a ride too?  Vaughn calls over to Lena to come get inside the car.  She looks down the long lonesome highway and decides to take the ride. There are two men sitting in the front seats and a light mixed-cast girl with her child in the back. 

The driver asks about Vaughn's girlfriend and he says she's from over there by England.  The driver tells her that it must be pretty cold over there in Ireland.  She answers:  "Yeah, pretty cold."  A police vehicle comes up behind the car and the driver pulls over to the side of the road.  Like a Southern cop in earlier days in the USA, he asks to see his license and calls him "boy".  He looks around at everyone in the car.  Then he tells the driver that his tires are bald, which is a $100 dollar fine.  The policeman says he will forget about the tires, but he better not see this "piece of shit car" again.

The driver tells the mother to shut her kid up.  He says it two more times and then he slaps her hard across the face.  This makes Lena mad and she tells the driver to stop the car.  The driver pulls over and Lena tells him:  "You're an asshole, you know that?"  She gets out of the car and starts walking down the highway.  Vaughn gets out of the car and walks behind Lena again.  She scolds Vaughn for not saying anything when the driver hit that mother.  Vaughn says it's not his business, so Lena says he is just like all the other fellows she knows.  Vaughn tells her:  "You don't know shit about me."  Yeah, then who was that policeman looking for?  She tells him that he just better stay away from him. 

She starts to hitch-hike and a car pulls up to her, but she sees the white guys are a bit too tough looking for her tastes.  She tells them no a couple of times, but then the passenger grabs her bag and starts pulling the bag and her into the car through the window opening.  The driver gets out and tries to push Lena into the front seat.  Meanwhile, Vaughn picks up a big rock, runs over to the driver and hits him across the forehead with it.  The guy goes down.  Now Vaughn starts pulling on Lena's legs trying to get her out of the car.  The driver gets up and gets back in the driver's seat and starts to take off.  Meanwhile, the passenger lets go of Lena and Vaughn pulls Lena out with her bag.  They both watch the car as it goes speeding down the road. 

Vaughn picks up her scrapbook that fell on the road and gives it to Lena.  She puts it in her bag and starts walking down the road.  Vaughn figures she doesn't want him to follow her, so he just stands there.  A little ways up the road she turns around and asks:  "You coming?"  They start walking down the road.  She asks his name and they exchange names.  She asks what he did to have the cops looking for him?  He says that he just broke out of jail.  Lena then asks well, why was he is jail?  He says, like she told him once, it's none of her business.  She says that he's gotta turn himself in because he can't keep running from the cops for the rest of his life.  "You'll end up like the rest of them Vaughn.  Wasting your life away."  He tells her to shut up and she tells him that he may as well give up now because he's just a fucking loser.  Vaughn grabs her and spins her around to face him.  He says:  "I said to shut the fuck up."  To win sympathy he says his mother's dying.  He starts walking ahead of her. 

Lena asks Vaughn about what is jail like.  Vaughn tells her a few things about his jail experiences.  He stops when he sees a corn field.  He and Lena go into the corn field and Vaughn grabs a few ears of corn.  They hear a tractor coming down the road and they run back to the gate and climb over it.  The farmer calls Vaughn a "black bastard" and that makes Vaughn mad.  He stops and asks the farmer what did he call him?  The farmer just tells him to get off his land.  Vaughn gives him the finger and says:  "Fuck you!" 

They start walking and Lena tells Vaughn that the farmer is probably calling the police right now.  Vaughn tells her:  "Well, that's what you want, ain't it?"  She answers:  "You're not the only one to have a shit life, Vaughn."  He tells her that she doesn't know fucking know what it's like to be him, so she should shut up.  He tells her that he's very good at stealing cars.  Does Lena know what they call him?   She says:  "Stupid!"  No, they call him "10 seconds Vaughn" because that's how fast he can steal a car. 

Lena sits down on the railing of a bridge.  Vaughn wants to know what kind of job she will get (a writer) and where's she going?  She's going to find her biological father and stay with him.  Vaughn asks to see some photos from her album.  She shows him her father and Vaughn comments that he's white all right.  He talks about the whites having taken the land of the Aborigines.  Lena replies that the Aborigines gave the land up.  He denies that saying that what screwed them up was the diseases the white men brought with them to Australia.   He adds:  "Anyway, the war ain't fucking over."  She sarcastically asks:  "Is that right?"  Yeah. 

Vaughn sees an unmarked police car coming and he runs off the bridge and then under it.  The police slow down to take a look at Lena, but then continue on.  Vaughn comes back up on the bridge.

It starts raining and they seek shelter in an abandoned church.  He rips out some pages from the Bible to start a small fire on a large piece of metal.  He doesn't much believe in God.  He says his mother left him when he was very young.  Moreover, he was locked up for two years in prison.  He tells Lena that he bets her father doesn't even know she's coming.  Lena doesn't answer him about this subject.  Vaughn goes to sleep on the church floor. 

In the morning when he awakens, he realizes that Lena has taken off.  He runs down the road and catches up with her.  Lena goes into the Currabubula Hotel and uses the bathroom.  Vaughn stays outside.  The bartender gives her something to drink.  A young white fellow comes over to talk to her.  His name is Shawn.  Vaughn comes into the bar and the bartender asks him:  "You all right there, boy?"  The whites just stare at him, so Vaughn leaves. 

Lena grabs her bag and comes after him.  He really is mad at the whites, including Lena.  She says she was just trying to get them a lift.  They start walking.  One of the men from the bar comes along in his car and asks Vaughn if he wants a ride?  And off the three go. 

In the back seat Lena looks at the mountains.  She is looking for a view that could match the one she has in a photo in her album. 

The driver comes to his drive way and lets the two people out.  No one says anything.  Walking again Vaughn says that she really liked that young fellow at the bar, didn't she?  She smiled at him.   Lena asks Vaughn what's that go to do with him? 

Friends of Vaughn give him and Lena a ride.  A young fellow in the car has a pistol with him.  He pulls lit out and flashes it around. 

The cops pass by them and then they turn their car around.  The driver tells his friend to drop the weed out the window and that's what he does.  The police turn the flashing lights and siren on and come up behind the other car.  The cops take the driver's license and check it out.  A cop comes beside Vaughn and he asks the fellow to step out of the car.  Vaughn has no I.D. on him so the cop asks for his name.  Vaughn won't give his name.  The fellow in the front passenger seat is huge.  He gets out of the car and tells the policeman to let the guy go.  The policeman takes out his baton and when the huge fellow won't shut up, the cop hits him with the end of the baton right in the gut.  The other police officer pulls the driver out of the car.  The policeman asks if Vaughn is going to tell him his name?  He also refers to Vaughn as "boy".  This makes Vaughn very angry and he spits in the man's face.  The police officer really whacks Vaughn with his baton on the right side of his face causing Vaughn to feel woozy.  The policeman gives him another blow to the face.  Now Vaughn is on the ground and the policeman starts kicking Vaughn. 

Lena gets out of the car and picks up the baton from the ground.  The policeman watches to see if she is going to try anything, but she just drops the baton to the ground.  Meanwhile, Vaughn has gotten up off the ground and now slugs the police officer in the face with a hard blow.  The driver now knocks the other policeman down.  The young people get back into the car and take off.  Vaughn tells the driver to drop him home.  The car reaches Vaughn's home.  Accompanied by Lena, they go into the house.  Going into the bedroom, they see a large section of the bed sheet covered with very red blood.  He tells Lena that she better go, so get the fuck out.  Lena turns and leaves. 

A police siren is heard. Vaughn goes outside and starts running down the road.  Lena reaches the train station, but very quickly Vaughn is right beside her.  The cops are still riding around trying to find him.  Lena gives Vaughn a hug and then gets on the train.  The train pulls out of the station headed for downtown Sydney. 


Well, if you didn't know already, the film makes the statement that there's quite a bit of racism in Australia.  It seems the couple in the film is being constantly stopped by the police.  (Part of it is because Vaughn is on the run from the law.)  A lot of the whites call Vaughn "boy" or "black bastard".  Throughout the road trip, they are continually running into racial prejudice and discrimination.  This is good in the sense that the film really shows that for many blacks or browns, they are always facing prejudice and discrimination from the whites from really bit incidents to little ones.  Vaughn acts like America's well-know angry black man.  I thought it was a bit strange that his traveling companion wasn't more sympathetic to Vaughn's situation and condition.  Vaughn complains or criticizes and Lena offers some white excuse and yet Lena is half aborigine and half white.  (But the key fact is that Lena looks white and has had an easier life than Vaughn). It's like the two people are both saying that the other one doesn't have a clue.  Vaughn says she doesn't have a clue about how tough his life has been and is and she tells him he doesn't have a clue about what it takes to get out of poverty.  She really gives him a lot of criticism and he often tells her to shut up.  You would think that being half-caste Lena would be more sympathetic.  Perhaps Lena has caught hell for looking white by her more Aborigine looking schoolmates and has, therefore, identified more with the whites.  After all, she runs away from her home town to be with her white father in Sydney, where life would be much easier for her (as a white person).

The ending was kind of abrupt. Maybe they realized that they were from two different worlds and didn't see the point in continuing the relationship. 

Please remember that denying racism's existence is racist in and of itself.  And remember that just because a person may not believe in the horrific impact of prejudice and discrimination on minorities, doesn't mean that the racism is not there.  The person is just denying the truth that's actually there and can be quantified by social scientists.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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