The Last Wave is rich in symbols and anticipations that are often connected with one of the most sacred elements – water. Water embodies the spiritual force of nature, which is ruthless and destructive. Thus, through the water, the phenomenon of animism is represented in the film. As animism refers to the spirit intrinsic to the natural forces, the film is imbued with the sense of fatality and human powerlessness. Animism is represented by the destructive last wave and the previous extreme weather events.
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Symbols in the film connect the spirit of nature with the mystical experience of the tribe and prophetic dreams of the main hero. The first symbol that causes the main hero to experience the sacred irrational side of reality is a symbol depicted on the sacred stone. This symbol is a key to the mysterious reality that is shared by the representatives of different tribes. It represents a “spirit from a dream time” (called the Mulcural) that was supported by the belief in two forms of time: one is the daily objective activity while another is an infinite spiritual cycle that the aborigines called “the dream time.” Another important phenomenon reflected in the movie is shamanism as the shaman of the aboriginal tribe plays the role of a messenger of the symbols and sacred meanings. In the film, the shaman turns out to be a mysterious native man Charlie that identified the main hero, David, to be a successor of an ancient Western tribe. Right from the very start, Charlie was an interesting character that had a mysterious and spiritual quality about him, making him fit to be a shaman. The film presented the shaman in both conventional and unconventional ways: while in the scene at David’s house Charlie is presented as a painter that does not speak English, he was also depicted with a painted face as inherent to the aboriginal tradition.
Another concept represented in the film is the idea of ethos. Ethos shapes the way people perceive the reality, create and interpret symbols and rely on natural forces. In the film, this idea is represented by an aboriginal tribe having their own sacred laws and sharing the common understanding of time and natural cycles. Ethos is often associated with the conflict between collectivism and individualism, which is depicted in the movie. According to the film, the western culture introduces individualism, skepticism, and prejudice to the world with spiritual and vague reality. On the contrary, aboriginal tribes are dependent on collectivistic reality based on divine laws and vague prophesies.
Monotheism is depicted in the figure of the main hero’s stepfather, who was a priest opposing polytheism. Nevertheless, he cannot ignore scaring dreams of the stepson that remind him of another side of spiritual reality. Therefore, the conflict of monotheism and polytheism is shown not only through the sufferings of the main hero. Aborigines, in their turn, are to face monotheism while swearing on the Bible during the trial and finding themselves in the society where life is more precious than the laws representing collective interests. Another reference to monotheism is the words of the main hero’s daughter about her love for the Christ. The figure of the Christ which is commonly associated with hope and love is opposed by the shadow of reality represented by inevitability and chaos. Polytheism was reflected through the characters of aborigines that did not believe in one God; rather, they believed in different spirits that appear in dreams and can guide people and warn about possible disasters.