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John Hillcoat: Australian Indigenous Culture in “Proposition” Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Jun 13th, 2022


“The Proposition” is an Australian movie directed by John Hillcoat and it was released in 2005 which won a dozen awards for the best in screen play, cinematography, costume design, original music score, and production design. The film was also awarded the best movie and the best supporting actor. There are four producers for this movies and the screen play is written by Nick Cave. The presentation and depiction of indigenous culture of Australia is the main attraction of the film and this is the reason behind the selection of this particular movie for this assignment. Various elements in the movie like dialogues, cinematography, screen play, music and historical context take the movie to another realm. Therefore, it is one of the best movies in the contemporary history of Australia.

Choosing the topic

The reason behind the selection of the topic is that it has won many awards with the presentation of the indigenous culture of Australia. This movie is one of the best movies in Australia. “The Proposition” sets aside the emotion, the guilt and the judgment associated with contemporary thinking around Indigenous issues, and simply tells it like it is, warts and all” (Woorama, 2006). There was guerilla warfare in the older times in Australia at the time of invasions and the presentation of this movie helped the people to go back to the history and it paved the exposure of aboriginal people to the new world, media and movies. Since it depicts the older indigenous picture of Australia in all its authenticity, the movie gets an added attraction. “The film develops into the themes of screenwriter Nick Cave’s harrowing body of song lyrics – death, loneliness, and betrayal – which play out brilliantly against this desolate Australian landscape. That he contributes a mournful yet insistent score isn’t surprising, but Cave’s ease with story structure, dialogue, and characterization is refreshing indeed for a rock musician” (The proposition: Review, 2010). “The film’s creative strategy is simply to go further than anyone has in depicting the horror and degradation of the frontier in the 1880s. White on white or black, black on black or white – all are colored red in The Proposition. The assumption is we’ve been kidding ourselves, unwilling to face the truth. The film is a sort of misanthropic history lesson, with a hectoring tone and a desire to shock. That would not be a problem if it were also dramatically satisfying” (Byrnes, 2005).

Angle and perspective taken

The movie gives importance to the colonial times of Australia and it brings so many facts in front of the viewers thereby putting a lot of thoughts into the spectators’ minds to ponder over. “This movie reflects very well the very dark side of colonial Australia. The true past of colonial Australia is often forgotten or glossed over, but once you know of the events at Lambing Flats and of the Tasmanian Cannibal Convicts, Alexander Pearce and Robert Greenhill, you realize that this movie does represent a past that many are happy to forget” (Pomeranz, 2005).

Theoretical frame work of critique

One of the critical remarks about this movie is that this is very difficult to understand for a common man since there is a notion of eliminating the two elements, both good and evil. In most of the movies we see that the hero would be with on the right side of an incident or theme. But in this movie hero acts like the villain, villain is on the right side. So there is a misunderstanding among the audience regarding which is right and which is wrong. The critiques of the movie say that this movie destructs the notion of morality which is underpinned in the minds of the people. At the same time they hold high praises for the music and cinematography of the movie.

Evidence to support the argument

Two important ideas of the movie which the director tries to unfold in the movie are examining the response of a person when he meets unexpected situations in life and the historic relevance of the theme. “One of those is to examine how people act in desperate circumstances, and another is to authenticate the film’s historic context” (Urban 2010). Everyone in his or her life will have to face certain incidents that are difficult to evaluate ethically. Because, as we begin to approach this case morally we start loosing grounds. When we just go through the history of Australia we can understand that there is constant violence between the aborigines and the settlers. Therefore, the violence in the movie could be justified historically. “Violence is part of life in remote Australia at the end of the bushranger era, and there is little by way of homely comforts” (Keller, 2010).

Today, the government of Australia formulates so many policies for the welfare of aborigines. But there was tension between the settlers and the settled in Australia for the past many centuries. The role of this movie is great in changing the attitude of the government. “The changing policy towards aboriginals and the attempt to reconcile with the past would seem to have much influence on the depiction of the clash of cultures in the film” (Cave, 2005).

Description on “Proposition”

The gist of the movie can be summarized as “A lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him 9 days to kill his older brother, or else they’ll execute his younger brother” (The Proposition: Plot, 2005). The background of the movie is the 1880s which is depicted in the indigenous culture of Australia. The film starts with a fight between the police and a gang following the incident of a horrific rape and murder of the Hopkins family. Charley and Mikey are the burns brothers who are the leaders of the Burns’ brother’s gang. In the fight with the police, every one in the gang except burns brothers is dead. The Captain asked them that they can be free from their punishments if they kill Arthur who is a mercurial psychopath. The police and the aborigines were hesitant and fearful to go near his residence and the aborigines called him as a Dog-man. “In this uncompromising Australian period drama, conscience competes with loyalty and love spurs revenge. Three brothers fight for their place in a beautiful, brutal landscape, but one must be forsaken to save another in the unconscionable “Proposition”. Set in the 1880s, the film opens in the middle of a frenzied gunfight between the police and a gang of outlaws. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his brother Mikey are captured by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone)” (The Proposition (2006), 2006). The main crucial situation in the movie is the struggle going in the minds of Charlie. He has put himself in a situation where he cannot save the life of both of his brothers. “In the Australian outback c1880, an outlaw must choose between tracking down and killing his psychopathic older brother or seeing his younger brother hanged” (The proposition: Summary, 2005).


The analysis of the film brings so many factors such as beautiful cinematography, depiction of beautiful landscape in Australia, good soundtracks, marvelous dialogues, presentation of colonial aspects, displaying indigenous culture, which are unavoidable factors that can be observed and analyzed. One important theme presented in this movie is the eradication of two important factors black and white. This is the subject matter of eliminating two concepts good and evil and there by this movie produces a different notion which is left to our further reflection. The officer tries to maintain law and order in the wild frontier too. “A hard-as-nails British officer is attempting to bring law to the wild frontier” (The Proposition- awesome Australian western, 2006).


The evaluation of this movie is very difficult because there are positive elements and negative elements in this movie. It could be said that this is good, at the same time it is gruesome since it destroys the notion of the morality which is handed over from generation to generation. It takes us to the time of colonization when white people came for settlement. There was disharmony between the white people and the aborigines. One more aspect that could be seen in this move is the depiction of realism. “Brimming with a sickening sense of dread, The Proposition is tremendous filmmaking marked by an overwhelming sense of realism” (Fraser, 2005). It unfolds the history that occurred in the past of Australia. Charlie who is the main actor in the movie seems to have generic trait of the 17th century western world. The presentation of realism in the movie is the quality of the movie that attracts so many audience including Europeans and Americans.

Tracing the history and evolution of issues

In Australia, there are a lot of aborigines who have not come in the front line of the country and they are not sharing the development of the country. They live in their group and they have their own culture, way of behavior, traditions etc. Initially, there were only aborigines but later, a number of white people migrated to Australia. The aborigines were the inhabitants in Australia while the white people are the settlers. There was a constant clash between the white people and the aborigines. The movie “Proposition” presents the context prevailed in the second half of the seventeenth century. “Underpinned by commentary on precisely this kind of disharmony between white settlers and the places they are determined to inhabit (however incongruously), Cave’s script moves stealthily toward a ferocious finale at the Stanley household that doesn’t disappoint in its settling of all outstanding scores” (Kuipers, 2005).

Specific works

“With The Proposition, it’s set for some further redefinition, and a change of accents and scenery” (Hubbard, 2006).

This movie has brought so many changes in the field of movie making. This movie is a special one due to special efforts in various fields such as screen play, cinematography, costume design, original music score, production design and the perception given to the audience is also new and special. It reveals so many facts linking to the historical context. “Set in late 19th century Australia, this is a deadly serious tale of the law taking on the criminal world with one of them ending up with more than a bloody nose” (Hurley n.d.).

Context of audience

There are two kinds of movies which are produced for the normal people and for the intellectuals. People who are in the second category can relate the various scenes into the life, history etc. A normal man who watches this movie is not able to reflect over the plot and to connect to the historic moments. One of the criticisms against this movie is that the normal people are not able to comprehend the theme in the movie. There are many scenes in the movie which are not able to distinguish for what, for whom etc. The audience sometimes does not know which side to take. There are many uncertain situations in the movie where the viewer cannot imagine what would be next. “The Proposition grabs you from the very first scene, one in which we’re plunked right down into the middle of a ferocious gun battle; the viewer has no idea who’s shooting at whom, nor do we have a chance to side with any of the gunslingers. And once Stanley manages to cart Charlie and Mikey away, things get even more uncertain. In most movies, the lawmen are on the side of right, and the prisoners are rightfully punished. Here, all bets are off. The heroes are as devious as anyone, and the villains maintain their own strict code of morality” (Weinberg, 2006).


“The Proposition is a visually stunning tale of loyalty, revenge and the quest for justice in a lawless land” (Hillcoat, 2006). The Proposition’ is a thought provoking movie that poured so many thoughts for the people about philosophical and historical factors. This essay includes introduction, arguments and conclusion. Arguments are given to point out success and attraction about the movie. The arguments include the reason to choose this movie particularly, relevance of the movie, analysis part focusing cinematography, screenplay, and historical importance. There are two aspects that are visible in this movie that are philosophical and historical thoughts. Philosophical concept makes us to think the relation between the good and evil or white and black. This movie erases the marginalization between the good and evil that is white and black. The second thing which takes the attraction is the historical touch in the movie. It leads the people to the colonial times of the country and it gives importance to the emotion also. The particularity of the movies are the beauty of screen play, dialogues, cinematography, direction and music and it has won a set of awards for these elements in the movie. In short we can say that this is one of the good movies in the contemporary history of Australia.

Personal reflection

Presentation of the movie is so strong a setting in the context of nineteenth century. The movie discusses so many facts like colonialism, realism, historic link, true settlement, morality; perversion of life, dilemma etc. Colonialism in the movie is presented in the form of settlement of white people in Australia. The fight between the aborigines and white people is the scene that presents the colonial aspects in the movie. The aborigines were really the people of Australian land before the arrival of white people. With the arrival of the white people there occurred clashes between them and the aborigines were withdrawn to remote place. The history is well described in the movie. Ethics or morality is questioned in the movie which is the second important thought in the movie. Ethics could be told as knowing what is right and what is wrong. Our society gives vision to us about morality and this sense of morality is transmitted through various generations. So people expected the ethics to be taught by the society. But movie presents some facts contrary to the expectation of the society. The protagonist is supposed to take the sides of morality but this movie is entirely different from this notion. We can see a post modernistic aspect in this movie. The main idea in post modernism is that the centre becomes marginalized and the marginalized becomes the center. The movie also shows the main actor taking sides of the wrong while the villain taking sides of the right. The director of this movie succeeded in presenting the theme very lucidly. The music and cinematography are marvelous. The situation of Charlie in the movie can occur in every one’s life. I would like to tell the beauty of the movie quoting the following sentence. “No doubting the film is a thing of beauty, as purple sunsets and epic compositions grace almost every scene, but the heavily portentous nature of these shots threaten to tip the film over into accusations of.

No doubting the film is a thing of beauty, as purple sunsets and epic compositions grace almost every scene, but the heavily portentous nature of these shots threaten to tip the film over into accusations of style over substance, even if does thankfully stop just short of fractured Nic Roeg mysticism” (The proposition movie review, 2006).

Reference List

  1. Byrnes, P., 2005. . [Online] Smh.com.au. Web.
  2. Cave, N., 2005. Critical analysis. [Online] The Proposition, p.13.
  3. Fraser, C., 2005. . [Online] Movie review. Web.
  4. Hillcoat, J., 2006. The proposition. [Online] iTunes Movie Trailers.
  5. Hubbard, M., 2006. The Proposition. [Online] music OMH.
  6. Hurley, P., n.d. Film: The proposition review. [Online] Talk Talk.
  7. Keller, L., 2010. Proposition, the: Review. [Online] Urban Cine File.
  8. Kuipers, R., 2005. Emmy central: The Proposition. [Online] Variety’s Festivals & Markets.
  9. Pomeranz, M., 2005. The proposition: Review. [Online] At the Movies.
  10. The Proposition (2006), 2006. [Online] Match Flick.
  11. The Proposition- awesome Australian western, 2006. [Online] Movie Reviews for greedy capitalist bastards.
  12. , 2005. [Online] IMDB. Web.
  13. 2006. [Online] Future Movies. Web.
  14. The proposition: Review, 2010. [Online] Answeres.com.
  15. , 2005. [Online] Guardian. Co.uk. Web.
  16. Urban, A.L., 2010. Proposition, the: Review. [Online] Urban Cine File.
  17. Weinberg, S., 2006. . [Online] Efilimcritic.Com. Web.
  18. Woorama., 2006. Film review, the proposition. [Online] Suite 101.com.
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IvyPanda. 2022. "John Hillcoat: Australian Indigenous Culture in "Proposition"." June 13, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/proposition-by-john-hillcoat/.


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