The Water Diviner

Posted on April 23, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence including some disturbing images
Profanity: Brief language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence with battles and terrorist attacks, characters injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images, suicide, mercy killing
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 24, 2015 ASIN: B00WFNPPVY
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

Before it detours into not one, not two, but at least three preposterous Hollywood twists, “The Water Diviner” is an absorbing drama about Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer (Russell Crowe, making his directing debut as well) who travels to Turkey to find the remains of his three sons, all killed in the battle of Gallipoli, so he can bring them home for burial. We first see Joshua dowsing for water. He selects the spot he is drawn to, then digs with skill, focus, and determination, until he hits water. He has a well.

He returns to the house where his wife tells him to read a bedtime story to their three sons. It is too much for her to accept that they are long gone to war and killed in battle. Finally, she is so overwhelmed by grief that she commits suicide. Joshua insists that she be buried in the church cemetery, and then leaves to bring their sons home and bury them next to her.

Crowe’s greatest asset as a director is himself as leading man, and his performance is powerful, with a muscular masculinity and sense of honor, but shredded by the loss of his family and by his fears that he may be responsible because he “filled their heads with heroic nonsense.” The clash of cultures and the unthinkable tragedies are intriguing. The best part of the film is the depiction of the way the defeated Australian command must work with the Turkish nationals to bury their dead as respectfully as possible, the tensions are inevitable. Was the end of the battle a “retreat” or an “evacuation?” “You killed my sons.” “You sent them. You invaded us.” Both, of course, are right. When one says, “I don’t know if I forgive any of us,” the other side has to agree.

“Four years ago you’d have given me a VC for shooting that bastard,” one of the ANZAC (Australian/New Zealand) officers growls. “That bastard” is Major Hasan (Yılmaz Erdoğan). The former enemies must work together on a task of unimaginable sadness and defeat, creating a sacred burial ground for thousands of dead soldiers, who will remain for eternity in the site of their defeat. “This is the first war anyone has given a damn,” to do even that much, says an ANZAC officer. Previous war dead were piled into pit graves with the horses.

Joshua finds a place to stay — or rather, it finds him, as a boy takes his bag and runs to the home where his mother and uncle have established a small hotel. They do not want an Australian there, but they need the money, so they gingerly make him welcome. The boy’s mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), is still insisting that her husband will return from battle, to keep her son’s hope alive more than her own, and perhaps also to protect her from the pressures put on a single mother to remarry. Joshua is forbidden from going to the burial ground, but Ayshe helps him find a way. Once he gets there, no one wants to help him. But “because he is the only father who came looking,” they grudgingly allow him to look through the piles of bones.

And then it starts to get Hollywood. The water diviner somehow uses that same skill to locate the remains of two of his sons. And then it may be that the third is still alive. The last section of the film takes a turn that even Indiana Jones would find daunting and a romance even Nicholas Sparks would find improbable. It is too bad that the earlier part of the film’s appreciation of conflicts and complexity is followed by a fairy tale ending.

Parents should know that this movie features wartime scenes of battle violence and terrorism with some disturbing and graphic images and a suicide and a mercy killing. Characters are wounded and killed. In addition, it includes some strong language, domestic abuse, sexual references, drinking, and smoking.

Family discussion: What did Joshua and Major Hasan have in common? What do we learn from the flashback to the sandstorm? What should Arthur have done?

If you like this, try: Gallipoli and “A Very Long Engagement”

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Drama Inspired by a true story Movies -- format War