Theme: The Last Hope
Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut in Fear of God Films new release, The Water Diviner. Crowe also stars in the movie playing Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer who goes on an impossible journey to retrieve the bodies of his three sons killed in the World War I Battle of Gallipoli. It is a beautiful tale of love, loss, forgiveness and resurrection.
The movie begins with an ending; the last day of the seventh month-long Battle of Gallipoli. The ANZAC forces are retreating; the Turks have won the battle but will lose the war. The only real victor here is death; for the ugly scarred earth is filled with trenches of rotting corpses. This is no paradise. It is a fallen world where brothers are pitted against brothers and forced to kill one another.
The story moves forward in time to four years after the battle and zeros in on one man. Joshua Connor is out with his divining rods trying to find water in a parched land. Finding a spot he likes he begins to dig a well. All day he labors in the hot sun, finally reaching a place where water breaks in and fills the hole. Proud of his own ability to find the right spot, he immerses himself into the water.
This is a significant scene with great symbolism. There are two well scenes which bracket the movie,beginning and end. Joshua is immersed in the water of each well. These are two “baptisms”, with very different meanings. Understanding what each well represents is essential to understanding the message of the movie.
This well is one Connor found by his own “divining”, and dug in his own strength, the implication being this is a place he has dug himself into. Immersed in this water is symbolic of a baptism unto death; for death has entered his life with the loss of his threes sons in the Battle of Gallipoli. Filling their heads with romantic tales of Arabian Nights, he sent them off to war with a wave good-bye and an admonition to keep their heads down. The flashback scenes of the brutality in the trenches of Gallipoli were hardly the adventure they were seeking.
Connor’s wife has not recovered from the loss of her sons. Only the eldest son’s blood stained journal was returned to them. The thought of her boys’ bodies not being properly buried at home in consecrated ground has slowly driven Lizzy Connor insane. One night she deliberately walks out of the house and into one of her husband’s wells, making the next hole he digs her grave.
Remembering the stinging barb she said to him on her last night, “you can find water but you cannot find your sons”, Joshua kneels beside her grave and promises he will bring them home. Laying aside his divining rods and picking up his son’s journal, he sets out on his journey guided by only one thing . . . the love of a father for his sons.
A pilgrimage is a search of moral or spiritual significance. Joshua’s search for his son’s bodies is a pilgrimage. He is confronted with many questions of moral and spiritual weightiness.
• Who really makes war and can your enemy be a friend?
• What constitutes holy ground - a churchyard or a blood sacrifice?
• What principle did you send your sons off to die for?
• Can you identify with the suffering and loss of the other side?
The quest, the questions and the answers he discovers all work to humble and transform Joshua Connor.
Being guided by love is very different than being driven by fear and hatred. The love which propelled him forth on such an impossible task touched the heart of his son’s enemy, Major Hasan. It is Hasan who comes to Connor’s aid and helps him find the bodies of Edward and Henry, and it is Hasan who uncovers the miraculous truth; Arthur survived the battle and was taken a prisoner of war.
The hope his son may still be living drives Joshua to press on even if it means going into an active war zone. The movie’s climatic scene comes when he finds his son in a monastery. The traumatized Arthur recounts to his father (as it is shown in flashbacks) just how Edward and Henry died. The most loving thing he could do for Edward was at the same time the most horrific thing he could do for himself, shoot Edward at his request to end his suffering. Believing he cannot be forgiven he says “I killed him so I can’t come home”. Joshua Connor’s forgiveness is also his own confession. “I didn’t lift a finger to stop any of you. Your brothers live on in you.”
With the Greek fighters pressing in, Arthur leads his father to a well to help him escape. Connor will not be separated from his son again; they go together or they die together. So Arthur jumps with Joshua into the well, and this well is no muddy hole dug by human hands; it is a rushing river. Father and son are baptized into a river of life which carries them safely through death and into a new life together.
The father has received all of his sons back in the first born; the son has been resurrected from the dead.