Out of place: reading (post) colonial landscapes as Gothic space in Jane Campion's films.
Filmmakers (Social aspects)
Rueschmann, Eva
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Name: Post Script Publisher: Post Script, Inc. Audience: General; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2005 Post Script, Inc. ISSN: 0277-9897
Date: Winter-Summer, 2005 Source Volume: 24 Source Issue: 2-3
Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Named Person: Clutha, Janet Paterson Frame; Campion, Jane
Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom

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Many cultural critics and film scholars observe that a recurrent fascination with landscape and topography characterizes the national cinemas of Australia and New Zealand. Filmmakers in both countries use landscapes, including cityscapes and suburbia, as more than a mere backdrop for human dramas, employing them instead as codes and metaphors for social and psychological relationships, historical myths and contemporary social issues (see Collier and Davis). In his book, South of the West: Postcolonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia, Ross Gibson argues that the Australian landscape in film is indeed,

Gibson here articulates the ways in which the cinematic representation of mythologized landscapes, particularly of the rural outback and desert interior, has indelibly shaped the Australian cultural imaginary, a feature exemplified by such films as My Brilliant Career (1979), Walkabout (1970), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Mad Max (1979), The Man from Snowy River (1982), Crocodile Dundee (1986), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), and Japanese Story (2003). Images of mythic landscapes have helped create a national identity for a colonizing settler society that has both recoiled from the alien and inhospitable land and sought its own national future and identity in its distinguishing features. Struggling with a land so different from Great Britain, Australian settlers and their descendents created what Judith Wright has termed the "double aspect" of Australian (literary) representations of nature, its dualistic portrayal of the "reality of newness and freedom" and "the reality of exile" (351-59).

While New Zealand offers a different topography than Australia, combining beach, mountains, bush, high plains, and forest in close proximity, it nevertheless shares with Australia its beginnings as a British colony and features a similarly complex vision of a foreign landscape that settlers sought to "civilize" and alter in the image of Britain as part of the colonizing project. In films as diverse as Strata (1983), The Lost Tribe (1983), Vigil (1984), The Piano (1993), and Once Were Warriors (1994), the New Zealand landscape plays a prominent role as both an awe-inspiring and threatening environment for the central protagonists. As filmmaker Jane Campion has said in an interview about The Piano, her film set in the New Zealand bush of the 1850s: "There is such an intensity in certain parts of the bush that you have the impression of being underwater. It's a landscape that is unsettling, claustrophobic and mythic all at the same time ... It's scenery that has troubled a lot of Europeans when they arrived, and since they didn't like it, they cleared a lot of it so that it looked more like Europe" (Wexman 106).

Campion is a significant director for the study of landscape and its cultural meanings in Australian and New Zealand cinema. Her films present a particularly rich and layered vision of landscape and space that reveals how the antipodean cinemas have both mythologized and demythologized their national identities. Her films, which have received wide acclaim and have been the subject of vigorous critical debates between feminist and postcolonial critics, consistently include landscape as both a ubiquitous character and metaphor, as actual setting and psychic space. Campion's expressionist constructions of landscape serve as a way to represent settler societies as fundamentally problematic sites of national and gender identity, where power relations between men and women, colonizer and colonized are at times ironically critiqued and subverted.

Then there is the complex question of Campion's own national location. Born in New Zealand, she left her home country in her early twenties to attend the Sydney Art School and the Australian Film and Television School, and is now professionally located in Sydney, calling herself an "Aussie directress." Since her international success at Cannes with The Piano, Australians are eager to claim her as a representative of their film culture. Yet, Campion herself considers The Piano an unmistakably New Zealand film. In two of her films, An Angel at My Table (1990) and The Piano, Campion returned to her native New Zealand, while her other works have Australian, European and American settings. Treated as a director of international stature, who receives funding from multiple foreign sources, Campion is now seen by film critics as less a specifically Australian director than a representative of global women's cinema.

Despite these tensions, or perhaps precisely because of them, Campion is a compelling example of an antipodean director whose films address what Australian cultural critic Graeme Turner has called the "national fictions" of Australian cultural identities. As a New Zealand expatriate, she explores the history of her home country's colonization of the land through stories about women who find themselves geographically and psychologically displaced. In Campion's films, landscape functions not only as a cultural icon of national identity but as a psychological frame for women's entrapment in a colonial society whose daughters, wives and mothers were expected to support the "civilizing" mission of settler communities and their descendents. The neo-Gothic aesthetics so characteristic of Campion's films emphasize the landscape as a disorienting psychological space in which her female characters attempt to redefine themselves outside those conventional social roles for women. (1) From her early art-school shorts such as Peel (1982) and A Girl's Own Story (1983/4) through her first feature Sweetie (1989) to Holy Smoke (1999), Campion Gothesizes both interior and exterior landscapes in order to articulate the essential "homelessness" and sense of social entrapment of her white Australian and New Zealand heroines. (2)

The predominance of a Gothic sensibility has been noted in the films of postcolonial settler nations such as Australia and New Zealand, where the abrupt encounter between Europeans and a harsh and strange landscape created a sense of derangement and disorientation that lingers in contemporary visions of the land and nature. For example, William Schafer reads the images of landscape in New Zealand film as an example of the "postmodern sublime":

Turner observes a similar mood of ambivalence in Australian cultural texts: "Inverted in season, in mood and meaning, the Australian landscape as mirror to the soul reflects the grotesque and the desolate rather than the beautiful and the tranquil" (30-31). These ambivalent responses of awe and fear to unknown landscapes and nature--Schafer's "pleasing terror" of the Sublime--have been a distinguishing feature of Australian and New Zealand film. (3)

Indeed, in one of the early studies of the Australian film industry, The Screening of Australia: Anatomy of a National Cinema (1988), Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka identified the sub-genre of the "Australian Gothic," which they see as "a genuinely local aesthetic tendency, and one that has had some vitalizing effects on the industry" (239). Elements of the fantastic, grotesque and supernatural that symbolically represent the Gothic fear of Otherness, estrangement and the presence of the uncanny in the ostensibly known and safe realm of the home are usually associated with the horror film. Yet, they are a recurring hybridized feature, style or mood in other genres in Australian and New Zealand film, whether melodrama, comedy, or action film. The Gothic tradition originates in eighteenth-century European literature with its characteristic scenes of terror and abuse, enclosure and entrapment, madness, death and emotional or sexual excess set in a variety of classically sinister locations, such as ruined castles or abbeys, burial tombs, dark and gloomy moors and wild, "uncivilized" territory. A precursor of European Romanticism and a critical rejoinder to the rationalism, social order and scientific approach to knowledge of the Enlightenment period, the Gothic emphasized instead the irrational, uninhibited desires and passions, the dark unconscious of the human psyche. (4) Threatening landscapes or haunted interiors are a central topos in Gothic literature as a subjective image of a divided self and society projecting its own fear of difference onto Europe's Others and foreign places, and Gothic elements survive as a stylistic and thematic legacy of Romanticism in European modernist cinema, contemporary popular film, art, and postcolonial literature.

The persistence of the Gothic tradition in postcolonial texts is an especially culturally significant and revealing phenomenon, and as I will show, a key to appreciating Jane Campion's use of physical space as a window to the psyches of Australians and New Zealanders. Recent studies of the complex political and cultural relationship between the Gothic and postcolonialism return to the novels of Empire and their visions of the monstrous racialized and colonized Other, and examine the ways in which postcolonial writers have in turn appropriated Gothic conventions and elements to challenge the idealized coherence of European colonizing power structures and to offer alternative histories and cultures that had been repressed. (5) In a (post)colonial context, Gothic themes of duality and ghostliness, which engender terror and uncertainty in the reader or viewer, are fundamentally associated with the threat of disorder, a loss of sell unstable power relationships, bodily terrors, and the settler's or colonizer's feelings of displacement and homelessness. With regard to the antipodes, Roslynn Haynes writes succinctly about the importance of the Gothic in European representations of the Australian desert, and about the significance of the tradition as a specifically gendered mode of expression and critique of Empire which is haunted by its suppressed Others:

In her seminal work, Seeking the Centre: The Australian Desert in Literature, Art and Film, Haynes has done much to articulate the peculiar landscape of Australia as a psycho-symbolic space that is densely layered with feelings of dread, the uncanny, existential angst in the European mind, and is also inflected with a gendered vision of the land. In her analysis of male explorers' travel journals, Haynes remarks, "a 'female' land was thus a ready metaphor for male explorers to use, identifying an alien terrain with the alien sex, and thus constituting it as doubly 'other'" (50-51). Her reading of space is particularly relevant for a discussion of a contemporary filmmaker such as Jane Campion, who is attuned to the conventions of Gothic landscape representation and complex psychological dimensions of our perceptions of environment.

Campion makes full use of the Gothic traditions of landscape representation as a reflection of a state of mind, a mirror to the psychic turmoil of her central heroines as well as the cultural tensions in antipodean nations. Yet, the meaning of these landscapes and interiors is not fixed or consistent as befits Campion's postmodern perspective. She often consciously and ironically references the use of landscape as a sign, as a mental construction, a symbol of the female body or a cultural way of seeing. In Campion's films, landscape is not merely a natural topography, but a cultural interpretation that has always taken on particular resonance in colonial and postcolonial contexts where the appropriation of land by the colonizer is often reinforced by a visual possession of the territory. The representation of landscape is never neutral but implies a particular point-of-view: Campion's films seem to dramatize the postmodern and postcolonial perspective of scholars such as George Seddon and Simon Ryan. Ladden writes that "'Landscape' is a way of looking at a terrain; it is a perceptual term, not an objective reality" (qtd. in Haynes 249). In The Cartographic Eye: How Explorers Saw Australia, Ryan suggests that sight and various forms of visual technologies such as mapmaking and photography played a crucial role in advancing the imperial enterprise and establishing particular images of the land. In turn, film as a time-based visual medium may be particularly suited to a critical re-visioning of landscape not as a static image but as a protean construction, as a bearer of shifting and competing cultural meanings. So argues Laurence Simmons, who sees landscape in cinema as a "site for appropriation, a medium for exchange, a dynamic of ecological, cultural and economic practices" (123).

The Piano, Campion's nineteenth-century melodrama, most explicitly, and at times self-consciously, dramatizes the politics of perception in its representation of a colonial landscape through a Gothic lens. This film treats the British colonizing of New Zealand through the unconventional eyes of Ada (Holly Hunter), a self-imposed mute, who comes to New Zealand with her daughter and her only other means of expression and communication, a piano, for an arranged marriage to the settler Stewart (Sam Neill). The piano functions as both a crucial plot element and a complex symbol for European culture, female subjectivity and passion in the film. When Ada first arrives on the New Zealand shore, and Stewart orders her to leave the piano behind, panoramic shots of the abandoned instrument on the beach, surrounded by ocean waves, bring into sharp focus the oppositions between nature and culture at work in the colonial encounter. As Lydia Wevers writes: "The piano is the point of focus through which the landscape signifies wild, threatening, natural, not-civilized, not-cultured, and what happens to the characters, and what they do is meaningfully dependent on the film's construction of land as a terrain of otherness" (par. 2).


Later, Stewart sells the piano to his foreman Baines (Harvey Keitel), a colonizer "gone native," for a piece of land, and Baines in turn makes Ada a deal to win back her piano in exchange for music lessons and his erotic enjoyment of her body. The arrangement involves all three people in a highly charged love triangle that ends with both Ada's erotic self-assertion and, for this social transgression, violent punishment. The entire film is centrally concerned with buying and trading--of land, objects and bodies--a colonial ideology that sees both nature and women as possessions to be dominated and controlled. Parallel images of Stewart burning the land and chopping down trees--cultivating it for profit--and his constraint and maiming of Ada's body, suggest a profoundly gendered vision of landscape and indeed invites a psychoanalytic reading of the ways in which male explorers have unconsciously symbolized the land as the female body.

Two scenes from this symbolically rich film illustrate the confluence of looking, power and the female body as landscape in a particularly vivid way. Early in the film Stewart walks through the dark and murky New Zealand bush to meet Ada, and stops to comb his hair, using a daguerreotype of Ada as a mirror. The daguerreotype functions as a narcissistic frame that simultaneously encloses his arranged bride's picture, the bush landscape and the reflection of his own face. In another scene, Ada and Stewart awkwardly pose during the wedding ceremony in front of a static painting of a romantic European landscape in the rain-sodden, muddy bush as a photographer takes their picture. In this scene, Campion ironically presents Anglo-Celtic settlers' inscription of their topographical associations and expectations onto a foreign, decidedly non-pastoral landscape. Campion again deliberately emphasizes the mechanically reproduced image--the photograph--and the human eye framing the landscape. In her contemporary rendition of the Victorian era, Campion may also be alluding to her own position as a filmmaker reframing the colonial landscape with an ironic perspective. In these Brechtian moments of distantiation the film succeeds most effectively in its postcolonial critique, shifting our attention from a transparent myth of landscape to the production of a particular image and the reproduction of a colonialist ideology through visual technology.

However, The Piano is also filled with vistas that suggest the European sublime, majestically beautiful seascapes and overhead shots of the New Zealand forest favored by the tourist industry, which in the film match the grand elemental passions of the central protagonists, a passion which the colonial settler Stewart seeks to confine and control. One problematic aspect of the film is that it does not explore Ada's own implication in the colonial enterprise as a white woman, her resistance to her colonizer-husband and own erotic liberation notwithstanding. (6) While the film implicitly connects the dispossession of the Maori from their land and the patriarchal domination of Ada's body, the Maori characters in the film are reduced to secondary chorus players who merely serve to underline the main conflict between Ada and the patriarchal settler society. There is a hint of Ada's own psychological aversion to New Zealand being conquered by white settlers. Shots of the New Zealand bush at times exteriorize her own psychological alienation and sense of entrapment; the entangling vegetation of the bush, its strangeness, mystery and otherness visually repeated in the constraining hoops and corset Ada wears, suggests the Gothic displacement of Ada's anxieties, fears and homesickness as a "cultured" white woman wrenched away from her European home. At the same time, this visual correlation between a confining "wild" foreign landscape and socially constrained female body breaches the classic opposition between nature and culture, and exposes the violence and danger lurking in the ostensibly known and civilized world of Victorian society.

Campion is particularly indebted to the tradition of the "Female Gothic," a genre that typically dramatizes a female protagonist's attempts to escape from a confining space. According to David Punter and Glennis Byron,

The escape from male authority and entrapment in the literal and metaphorical labyrinths of social conformity and conventional gender roles play a vivid role in many of Campion's films, Sweetie, The Piano, An Angel at My Table, The Portrait of a Lady (1996), and Holy Smoke. However, in contrast to her predecessors working in the genre of the Female Gothic, Campion does not portray her heroines as mere persecuted victims of male power; they are concerned with questions of identity and the transgressions of social and sexual taboos traditionally reserved for male Gothic protagonists. It is in the films' shifting and dynamic landscapes and the interplay between symbolic interiors and exteriors that these struggles for self-definition, agency and sexual identity are waged, where power relations are at play, and where the ambivalent and haunted sense of belonging (or non-belonging) of white Australians and New Zealanders is articulated.

Campion's earlier New Zealand-based feature, An Angel at My Table, an originally made-for-television adaptation of acclaimed writer Janet Frame's autobiography, focuses on a non-conformist female protagonist whose ambivalent relationship to her home country, class structure and traditional conceptions of femininity is cinematically expressed through her uneasy position in domestic spaces and natural landscapes, albeit in a more subtle, understated manner than The Piano. The dramatic contrast between vast open spaces and claustrophobic bush which dominates The Piano's Gothic mise-en-scene is here replaced by a tighter focus on Janet Frame's (Kerry Fox; Alexia Keogh, playing Frame as an adolescent; Karen Fergusson, playing Frame as a child) immediate surroundings and interior world of the imagination in order to tell the story of a woman's journey from a painfully shy, shame-ridden working-class girl who was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic, to an artist whose writings would be considered among the most important of modern New Zealand literature. As an unconventional, modernist writer Janet Frame's relationship to the land is conflicted, particularly since land and nature in the works of male explorers, settlers and poets are often feminized, idealized or designated as an unfamiliar, passive territory to be entered and explored. For a woman artist, who tried to define herself outside of traditionally gendered roles and who was marginalized from middleclass society by her poverty and awkward femininity, growing up in a conformist, rural New Zealand in the 1930s and 1940s posed profound challenges for herself and her writing. Janet Frame's sense of alienation was further compounded by family tragedy, the drowning of two of her sisters during adolescence, and her eight-yearlong incarceration in a mental hospital following her increasing inability to find a place in society. For this story of a female artist whose imagination is at odds with social convention Campion avoids tourist images of New Zealand's picturesque, breathtaking landscape, choosing instead to render the countryside through Frame's ambivalent response to the pastoral landscape: the close observation of natural phenomena becomes an inspiration for her striking poetic imagery, but it is also the site of farm work drudgery associated with her mother's self-sacrificing life, a nomadic existence as a railway family, the death of two of her sisters, and her own sense of being a social misfit.


As an artist who grew up in New Zealand herself, left and returned to make two feature films, Jane Campion is acutely attuned to Frame's dual vision of the land as a site of life and death, of mythic inspiration and confining, stifling conformity for female artists. Several childhood vignettes subtly introduce the precariousness of Janet Frame's later marginal position in New Zealand society and her life story filled with psychic trauma: the film's opening shots reveal an infant's point-of-view of her mother's dark, looming shape against the sky; the maternal body as landscape is here both nurturing and overpowering, imbued with a touch of menace. The following scene shows a close-up of a toddler's legs moving through the sharp blades of intensely green grass. Campion's expressive mise-en-scene introduces the film's concern with Janet's subjective experience of a precarious and potentially dangerous external world rooted in childhood images, which would later find their way into her writing. (7)

In another early childhood scene, Janet is walking along an empty road toward the camera. Suddenly she is frightened by something unseen or perhaps her own isolation and quickly runs away. In her book "To the Is-land," Janet Frame writes that the lonely road and the wind made her aware for the first time of the sadness of the world outside of her. In the film's voice-over Janet announces that "this is the story of my childhood," mentioning the death of her unnamed twin which prefigures other tragedies to come. Her red, frizzy hair, which in the course of the film becomes an emblem of her marginality, repressed passion, and quiet refusal to fit into social norms, contrasts visually with the lush green landscape that surrounds her. People are forever teasing her about her hair or advising her on how to shape it into a more conventionally pleasing appearance. In her autobiography, Janet Frame draws explicit connections between her traumatic experience of her own body, a female body that refuses to be "disciplined," and the status of New Zealand as a colony. In the film version, Campion explores Janet's sense of isolation, "out-of-placeness" and discomfort with traditional femininity through a series of cramped houses, rooms, railway tracks and cemeteries, and confining institutional spaces such as the school and mental asylum, which serves as the ultimate Gothic symbol for social oppression and control of the female body. In one scene, espousing the dogmatic views of her psychology professor who later sees her as a "mad artist," Janet insists to her sisters that the clouds, indeed everything they observe are phallic. However, she eventually embraces her own more complex vision as an "envoy from mirror city." Ultimately, it is from the marginal spaces that Janet develops her most powerful writing, her acute awareness of the dangers of women's compliance with patriarchal visions of femininity, and her desire to liberate herself through her own imaginative recreation of the world around her.

One of the few panoramic shots of the New Zealand landscape Campion employs is a scene that Janet remembers of herself and her three sisters sitting on the wild coastline singing Robert Burns's "Duncan Gray" with arms stretched out toward the sea. The song expresses their desire to travel and escape to another part of the world, which Janet eventually fulfills when she visits Europe on the advice of fellow writer Frank Sargeson to "broaden her horizons." Upon her return to New Zealand after her father's death, the adult Janet, who has now become a recognized writer, stands on the same high bluffs greeting her home country with outstretched arms. In a gently satiric scene we see a news reporter and photographer scrambling up the hills to reach Janet for an interview at her family's house at Willowglen, a place that the community had earlier rejected as fit only for derelict families. The irony that Janet Frame had to leave New Zealand in order to be recognized as a New Zealand writer was certainly not lost on Campion. It raises the question of where Janet Frame belongs and how, as a colonial woman writer, she might envision a language and place for herself outside of traditional boundaries.

The uneasy relationship between white European settlers and their view of the "alien" landscape of Australia and New Zealand visually and thematically permeates Campion's work as a whole, beginning with her early film school short, Peel. In this film about the power struggle between a father (Tim Pye), his son (Ben Martin), and a female relative (Katie Pye) during a road trip exemplifies Campion's early preoccupation with how characters relate to and occupy space, her trademark eccentric compositions, her extreme visual fragmentation of the human body in the landscape, and her ambiguous narratives. However, her 1989 black comedy Sweetie most thoroughly elaborates upon her contemporary characters' profound alienation from their environment. The film is set in the modern suburbs of Sydney, focusing on a dysfunctional family that is terrorized by the demands of the titular character, Dawn, nicknamed "Sweetie" (Genevieve Lemon), whose mental instability comes to embody the repressions of the family itself. The central part of the film does not focus on the recognizable Australian outback or the Sydney skyline, exploring instead the uncanny, claustrophobic spaces of the suburban home, a Gothic site of perverse oedipal and love relations that haunt the central characters. Nevertheless, the film links an exploration of psychological dysfunction in the Australian family with a commentary on Australians' ambivalent perception of nature and the natural landscape, its threatening, unruly aspects and its mythologized potential for rejuvenation and "authentic" Australian selfhood.

While Australian films from the 1970s largely drew on the country's bush legend, cinema in the late 1980s and 1990s increasingly explored suburban and urban settings, the coastal areas inhabited by the majority of the population, and brought to the foreground the conflict between nature and culture that structures so many aspects of Australian life and attitudes (see Johnson). Robin Boyd, a critic of suburban sprawl, coined the term "arboraphobia," or white Australia's fear of trees, that led to massive razing of land to create a paved suburban landscape. In The Australian Ugliness, Boyd writes:

Sweetie is filled with references to Australians' ambivalent relationship to the native landscape; decentered shots portray the dry, ugly cement landscape of the suburbs; mangy backyards with pathetic garden plots and dark, claustrophobic interiors with cracked walls and ceilings and, ironically, floral carpets. These images are linked to moral aridity, sexual dysfunction, the sterile suffocation of suburban living, and the dread of natural growth invading the house. The governing narrative and visual metaphor is Kay's (Karen Colston) fear of trees, which connotes her anxiety about sexuality and reproduction, as well as her repressed rivalry with her grotesquely sexual and out-of-control sister, Sweetie. The film opens with a shot of Kay's figure positioned at an odd angle on a floral patterned carpet, simultaneously a literal evocation and parody of woman's body as landscape. In voiceover, Kay remembers a special tree and tree house that her father (Jon Darling) built for her sister Sweetie in the backyard, and she mentions her fear of trees and their "hidden powers." Hence, from the very beginning of the film, Kay associates Sweetie, the disturbed and uncontrollable sister, with an invasive natural landscape run amok. Later we see Kay fearfully walking along a concrete sidewalk, and close-ups of its surface ominously suggest that something might lurk beneath. When her boyfriend Louis (Tom Lycos) plants a little alder tree in their cement backyard to commemorate the first-year anniversary of their relationship, he ironically triggers a crisis in their sexual intimacy. Kay has nightmares about tree roots spreading into the house and superstitiously associates the possible death of the tree with the end of their relationship.

The nightmare sequence includes some time-lapse photographs of distinctly phallic-looking roots shooting through the earth, as well as a black-and-white image of two men shaking hands over a recently planted tree. In her analysis of the Gothic imagery in Sweetie, Anneke Smelik considers this dream scene in some detail, arguing that in the last shot which decenters the men with their shovels to the right of the image, they resemble gravediggers (142). In response to these frightening images, Kay runs into the backyard and pulls out the little tree and hides it under the bed. This revealing sequence condenses a number of images and themes in the film as a whole: Kay's fear of her own sexuality, rooted perhaps in some childhood trauma, and her father's narcissistic, quasi-incestuous obsession with his favorite daughter Sweetie, is visually linked to the cultivation of the land which takes on sexual overtones. Interestingly, in both Australian and New Zealand slang "to root" refers to having sex. The tree planting ceremony perversely suggests a burial that ultimately prefigures the end of the film. A naked, mud-splattered Sweetie, who had been temporarily abandoned by the family, falls out of the treehouse in her parents' yard and dies a grotesque death; her burial in the cemetery is even interrupted because a root is obstructing the casket. From suburbanite Kay's perspective the natural landscape is here seen as perverse, sinister and cunning. Anneke Smelik and John Orr even find a possible oblique reference to Australian Aboriginals, the repressed cultural Other of white Australian suburbia, in Sweetie's abject self (Smelik 147; Orr 92). Even beyond death, Sweetie haunts her family's imagination as the final shot shows a young Sweetie singing a mournful song in a Gothicly dark garden.


One segment in the film temporarily takes the family away from the suburban wasteland and the unmanageable Sweetie into the Australian outback interior, en route to visit the mother, Flo (Dorothy Barry). Now working in the Australian outback as a cook at a cattle ranch, Flo had left the father in her despair over his stubborn refusal to acknowledge how his attachment to their disturbed daughter was destroying their lives. As Roslynn Haynes has noted, the Australian interior has functioned in the national imaginary as either a hideous absence, a meaningless, dangerous void, or as a source of spiritual rejuvenation, the locus of the "true" Australian self for alienated suburbanites. When the family reunites at the jackaroo camp, Kay, her boyfriend Louis, and her father and mother briefly experience a sense of peace, hope and emotional connection, believing that they can all begin again. However, Sue Gillett observes that Campion's cinematic style works against a mythologization of the outback as a place of authenticity and renewal. "The outdoor shots refuse the obligatory panorama, opting instead for the construction of tight framing which is consistent with the style of photography used in the suburban locations" (par. 9). The characters' illusion of returning to some pre-lapsarian state of innocence, and by extension the illusion of a pre-contact vision of the Australian landscape, is exposed. Shots of the cowboys dancing with each other lend a humorous, surreal feel to this traditionally male territory of elemental survival.

Jane Campion reprises her demythologized vision of the Australian outback in her feature Holy Smoke, which can be interpreted as a feminist, postmodern pastiche of the colonial exploration of the interior. In this film, a young suburban woman, Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet), who searches for Eastern spirituality in India as an antidote to contemporary Australian materialism and conventionality, is taken into the Australian desert by her family to be deprogrammed by an American exit counselor. However, Ruth is neither a clueless victim of Eastern cults nor a willing client for Harvey Keitel's macho, ultra-rationalist deprogrammer PJ Waters. She survives the isolation of the desert and the breakdown of her newly found beliefs, reverses the power relationship with her captor, and ultimately returns to India to live and work, humbled yet still searching for spiritual meaning.

Once again, Campion presents a desolate view of the Australian suburbs in which Ruth grew up, in this case Sans Souci: overhead shots emphasize the boring uniformity of suburban brick houses, their interchangeable artificial front yards and drab interiors. The allusion to Frederick the Great's pleasure palace ironically links Australian middle-class suburbs to a carefully designed aristocratic European landscape. Interestingly, during the family's discussions of how to rescue Ruth from Eastern mysticism, her father and then an Australian cult specialist are shown standing in front of a painting depicting a romantic European landscape with rushing waterfalls and forests, a landscape antithetical to Australia, as if to underscore the ways in which white patriarchal Australian culture is still framed by European conceptions of space and nature.

Ruth's family is convinced that isolating Ruth with deprogrammer PJ Waters in the so-called "Halfway Hut" in the outback will return her to her authentic Australian identity. (8) In true Gothic fashion, the threat to Ruth's body and soul does not come from the seductions of an Indian guru, but rather from the dysfunctional family itself. The imaginary heart of Australia should, in the Barrons' minds, reveal to Ruth her "true" self as a member of their suburban family. While shots of the sun-drenched landscape play on this notion, nothing could be further from the truth: Ruth and PJ quickly become engaged in a battle of wills and spiritual survival, and the American rationalist, who is hired to strip Ruth from her religious illusions, finds that his own pretensions to objectivity and clinical distance are exposed as a fraud. Like the ill-fated nineteenth-century explorers of the Australian interior, Burke and Wills, Ernest Giles, and Charles Sturt, PJ is full of male hubris and expects to conquer Ruth, only to be confronted with a more intractable and unpredictable terrain.

The final scenes evoke the historical explorations in parodic form: after their final confrontation, during which Ruth tears down PJ's macho facade but also learns the need for compassion, Ruth sets out for the desert wearing make-shift shoes made out of books. Her impromptu, practical appropriation of these icons of civilization to make her way across the desert contrast with PJ's inability to survive the trek on his own. PJ madly pursues Ruth and in a hallucination sees her in the wilderness as the many-armed Indian creator-destroyer goddess Kali. Here Campion is playfully referencing mythic Australian history, the mirages seen by numerous explorers in the desert outback who were in search of a fabled inland sea and experienced the land as a Gothic space of imprisonment (see Haynes 58-84). Like those imperial adventurers, PJ confronts a parody of his own desires and fears, imagining the cultural otherness he was supposed to eradicate. Meanwhile, Ruth knows the desert does not hold what she is looking for; her search and her destiny will take her in quite a different direction.

Sue Gillett points out that Holy Smoke continually emphasizes the self-conscious performance of a national Australian identity, citing several examples of how this postmodern film resolutely undermines the notion of an essential Australian identity that can be captured through a mythic landscape: family members wear glitzy cowboy outfits to a party and shoot each other with toy guns; a merino sheep serves as a coffee table; Ruth spells out the word "HELP" with white rocks in the desert to be rescued from captivity--all these exaggerated signs ironically and even farcically reference historical and mythic images of the Australian landscape, exploration and nationhood? Thus this satiric look at Australia's relationship with India and the United States, at new age spirituality and white middle class malaise reveals national and gender identifies as masquerades, as powerful illusions that have fundamentally shaped Australia's self-perception.

Despite the different tone, narrative focus and (at times) cinematographic style in Campion's films, her work shows a remarkably persistent interest in landscape as a defining and dynamic symbol for her protagonists' tenuous and off-center relationship to their environment and history. All of Campion's films set in the antipodes suggest a cultural critique of the ways in which white Australians and New Zealanders have created national fictions of landscape and nation, fictions that her female protagonists experience as particularly confining and alienating. Campion has commented on her own "strange history" as a Pakeha New Zealander descended from European settlers (Campion 135). The Gothicized landscape in her films complicates and blurs the traditional boundaries between interior, domestic realms and exterior terrains, turning the familiar and known into the strange and uncanny. The Gothic is a most appropriate mode for Campion's thematic concerns with psychic and physical displacement and transgression as it "is a fiction of exile, of bodies separated from minds, of minds without a physical place to inhabit" (Punter 17). Her films often end provisionally or ambiguously, leaving her heroines suspended between different places and spaces. Landscape therefore becomes a powerful signifier of displacement in Campion's films about antipodean woman in search of themselves and a place of their own.

Works Cited

Boyd, Robin, "The Australian Ugliness." The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature. Ed. Ken Goodwin and Alan Lawson. South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1990. 44-46.

Campion, Jane. The Piano. New York: Hyperion, 1993.

Collier, Gordon, and Geoffrey Davis. "The Iconography of Landscape in Australian Film." Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 6 (1991): 27-41.

Conrich, Ian. "Kiwi Gothic: New Zealand's Cinema of a Perilous Paradise." Horror International. Ed. Steven Jay Schneider and Tony Williams. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2005. 114-127.

Dermody, Susan, and Elizabeth Jacka. The Screening of Australia: Anatomy of a National Cinema. Vol. 2. Melbourne: Currency Press, 1988.

Gibson, Ross. South of the West: Postcolonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.

Gillett, Sue. "Never a Native: Deconstructing Home and Heart in Holy Smoke." Senses of Cinema, March 2000. .

Haynes, Roslynn. Seeking the Centre: The Australian Desert in Literature, Art and Film. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.

Hendershot, Cyndy. "(Re)Visioning the Gothic: Jane Campion's The Piano." Literature/Film Quarterly 26.2 (1998): 97-108.

Jayamanne, Laleen. Toward Cinema and Its Double: Cross-Cultural Mimesis. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001.

Johnson, Anna. "The Root of Evil: Suburban Imagery in Jane Campion's Sweetie and Bill Herson's series Untitled 1985/ 1986." Binocular: Focusing, Writing, Vision. Ed. Ewen McDonald and Juliana Engberg. Sidney: Moet and Chandon, 1991.

Mishra, Vijay. The Gothic Sublime. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Morgan, Jack. The Biology of Horror: Gothic Literature and Film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2002.

Orr, John. Contemporary Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1998.

Punter, David. Gothic Pathologies: The Text, the Body and the Law. London and New York: Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Punter, David and Glennis Byron. The Gothic. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Ryan, Simon. The Cartographic Eye: How Explorers Saw Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Schafer, William J. Mapping the Godzone: A Primer on New Zealand Literature and Culture. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1998.

Screen "reports and debates" on The Piano. Screen 36.3 (Autumn 1995): 257-287.

Seddon, George. Landprints: Reflections on Place and Landscape. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Simmons, Laurence. "From Land Escape to Bodyscape: Images of the Land in The Piano." Piano Lessons: Approaches to The Piano. Ed. Felicity Coombs and Suzanne Gemmell. Sydney: John Libbey, 1999. 122-135.

Smelik, Anneke. And the Mirror Cracked: Feminist Cinema and Film Theory. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Smith, Andrew and William Hughes, eds. Empire and the Gothic: The Politics of Genre. Houndsmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Thompson, Kirsten Moana. "The Sickness Unto Death: Dislocated Gothic in a Minor Key." Piano Lessons: Approaches to The Piano. Ed. Felicity Coombs and Suzanne Gemmell. Sydney: John Libbey, 1999. 64-80.

Tincknell, Estella. "New Zealand Gothic?: Jane Campion's The Piano." New Zealand--A Pastoral Paradise? Ed. Ian Conrich and David Woods. Nottingham: Kakapo Books, 2000. 107-119.

Turner, Graeme. National Fictions: Literature, film and the construction of Australian narrative. St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 1993.

Wevers, Lydia. "The Story of Land: Narrating Landscape in Some Early New Zealand Writers or: Not the Story of a New Zealand River." Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 11 (1994): 1-11. .

Wexman, Virginia Wright, ed. Jane Campion Interviews. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.

Wright, Judith. "Australia's Double Aspect." The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature. Ed. Ken Goodwin and Alan Lawson. South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1990. 351-359.


(1) For specific readings of Gothic elements in Campion's films, see Hendershot, Jayamanne, Smelik, Thompson, and Tincknell.

(2) For the purposes of this essay, which focuses on the representation of antipodean landscapes, I will not discuss Campion's adaptation of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, a film set in England and Italy, or In the Cut (2003), which is located in contemporary New York City. Despite the different locations, however, these two films also feature Campion's interest in Gothicized landscapes and interiors and are linked to her thematic preoccupation with displaced women protagonists who seek to escape conventional social roles.

(3) See the documentary Cinema of Unease: A Personal Journey by Sam Neill (1995) for such a reading of a predominant Gothic mood and style in New Zealand film. See also Conrich.

(4) Within the vast corpus of scholarly literature on the Gothic and its various permutations in literature, film and art, some more recent interesting examples include Mishra's The Gothic Sublime, Smith and Hughes's Empire and the Gothic: The Politics of Genre, Morgan's The Biology of Horror: Gothic Literature and Film, and Punter's Gothic Pathologies.

(5) See in particular Smith and Hughes.

(6) Aboriginal artist Tracey Moffatt provides a more direct and provocative visual exploration of the historically fraught relationship between European and indigenous women in her cinematically structured photography series, "Laudanum," which uses classic Gothic imagery to depict the power relationship between a bourgeois white woman and her Aboriginal maid.

(7) In her famous short story, "The Reservoir," for example, Frame uses Gothic imagery to describe the landscape of the reservoir lake, which is an irresistible and fantastical destination for a group of children despite their parents' repeated warnings not to go there. The dreaded reservoir turns out to be both more harmless and mundane than their parents' warnings suggest, and a strange harbinger of adult knowledge of pain and death.

(8) Sue Gillett's "Never a Native" provides a particularly incisive analysis of the film's critique of Australian authenticity.

(9) Sue Gillett provides these examples from the film. "The significations of place are, in Holy Smoke, rendered visible rather than allowed the transparency which mythologizing relies upon. This is not the Real Australia." Gillett, "Never a Native" (par. 9).
a leitmotif and a ubiquitous character ...
   By featuring the land so emphatically
   in the stories, all these films
   stake out something more significant
   than decorative pictorialism. Knowingly
   or unknowingly, they are all
   engaging with the dominant mythology
   of white Australia. They are all
   partaking of the landscape tradition
   which, for two hundred years, has
   been used by white Australians to
   promote a sense of the significance of
   European society in the 'antipodes'.

The same interplay of foreground
   (human) and background (nature)
   works in New Zealand cinema, to
   show a small land as a grand, sweeping
   landscape, to magnify and uplift
   the subjects of the movies. The cliched
   feeling of Godzone [God's Own
   Country] as a 'pretty picture,' the
   merely picturesque sensation, is overcome
   by making the landscape an
   object of fear and apprehension--or
   by blocking it out with cityscapes, the
   closed spaces of urban modernity.

In symbolic terms it is now widely
   recognized that the Gothic provided
   a particularly appropriate mode of
   speaking on behalf of women and of
   the colonial condition, insofar as it
   expressed otherwise suppressed
   knowledge of alienation, disjunction,
   oppression, terror and conflict.
   Gothic fears were readily engendered
   by the immensity of the Bush that
   confronted the early settlers, and by
   the perceived hostility of that landscape,
   exacerbated by the presence of
   Aborigines (the dark enemy) and escaped
   convicts threatening the safe
   structures of society. (77)

In the female Gothic plot, the transgressive
   male becomes the primary
   threat to the female protagonist. Initially,
   she is usually depicted enjoying
   an idyllic and secluded life; this
   is followed by a period of imprisonment
   when she is confined to a great
   house or castle under the authority of
   a powerful male figure or his female
   surrogate. Within this labyrinthine
   space she is trapped and pursued,
   and the threat may variously be to her
   virtue or to her life. (279)

Despite the natural tendency of the
   country to overheat, despite the blistering
   outback legend and the constant
   search for relief even in the
   milder areas during the hottest weeks
   of summer, the object of the pioneering
   cult is to banish all shade from
   everyday life. Every lot is cleared for
   yards in all directions before it is considered
   safe for building ... It [the
   landscape and climate] is almost unpleasant,
   measured against the European
   ideal. It is faintly frightening:
   not that it menaces, but simply because
   it is so unfamiliar, so strangely
   primeval: as different again from the
   European or North American landscape
   as a tropical jungle. (45-46)
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