The eponymous Patrick White novel of which The Eye of the Storm is based upon, won the Nobel Prize in 1973, and has since been considered ‘unfilmable’. However such a myth has been dispelled somewhat, as Fred Schepisi’s first feature for close to a decade makes for a delectable visual experience, enhanced by a provocative score and a trio of immense lead performances. Though with the actors on board and director at the helm, you can’t help but feel that this remains slightly unsatisfying.
We enter in to the final weeks of the life of wealthy Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling), as the influential and affluent mother of two is on her death bed, waiting impatiently for her children Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (Judy Davis) to arrive. Having dictated much of her offspring’s lives, this ageing socialite is now dictating her very own death, alienating her children one final time before passing. However the lure of her inheritance keeps the pair lingering around her like vultures, as we explore the final implications of two children brought up by a loveless mother.
Although the principle theme to The Eye of the Storm is that of death and regrets, the morbidity is reduced somewhat by a dry, incandescent wit that remains present throughout, typical of Australian humour. That said, the underlying theme of death does remain prevalent, and we are consistently – and poignantly – reminded of it throughout. A strange sensation exists as there a foreboding element to proceedings as you know that death is inevitable at the end, and yet given Elizabeth’s hold over her children, her decline is almost inspiring, as you just know that when she has gone it will reinvigorate both Basil and Dorothy, to be free from her domineering clutches.
The film remains a fascinating exploration into the ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ attitude, as despite the fortuitous yet exceedingly wealthy upbringing for Basil and Dorothy, their own personal family relationships and troubling dynamics with their mother are coming home to roost, as we enter into the final moments of her life, as the closeted issues become prominent, inescapable during such a tentative, emotional period. The role of Elizabeth is an intriguing one also, as she is vindictive and selfish, yet in such a theatrical, melodramatic way. Despite her faults, given her deteriorating health, we can’t help but empathise with her, making for a confliction emotional response from the viewer, as ultimately we are delving into the final weeks and moments of a antagonising character who, yet just can’t help but see as the dying, elderly lady that she is, finding sympathy in an otherwise unsympathetic character.
Although the story holds much premise, The Eye of the Storm survives mostly off the performances of the leading cast members. Championed by a trio of fantastic actors, all three ensure that they lead the way majestically, all just as impressive as you would have hoped they would be when dealing with such treasured and somewhat preserved material. Helped along by three fascinating characters of course – allowing them all so much scope within their respective roles, as they anchor the emotional, bitter elements to this upper class society with a delicate ease, particularly Davis, who just has this vulnerability and sadness behind the eyes. Meanwhile, nobody could have played the role of the eccentric, liberating actor Basil as well as Rush manages, while Rampling appears to be playing her role as a cross-over between Dame Edna and The Queen.
You can’t fault the acting at all, and the magnitude of this story goes without saying, however we are just lacking that spark, that witty dialogue that ensures you stay compelled from start to end, as a feature that is guilty of entering into large chunks of tedium throughout the middle stages. This story is pensively told in a slow-burning manner that requires patience from the viewer. Although Schepisi simply doesn’t make this tale quite riveting enough to justify the lengthy process in which it’s told.