Entanglement and the Modern Australian Rhythm Method: Lantana’s Lessons in Policing Sexuality and Gender

Kirsty Duncanson, Catriona Elder, Murray Pratt


Abstract

Film in Australia, as with many other nations, is often seen as an important cultural medium where national stories about belonging and identity can be (re)produced in pleasurable and, at times, complicated ways. One such film is Ray Lawrence’s Lantana. Although striking a chord in Australia as a good film about ‘ basically good people’, people that rang ‘brilliantly’ true (Lantana DVD 2002), this paper argues that, at the same time as it produces a fantasy of a ‘good’ Australia, the film also conducts a regulation of what constitutes Australianness. In many ways the imaginary of Australia offered in this film, to its contemporary, urban, professional and intellectual elite audience, still draws on and (re)produces a vision of an Australian community that uses the same narrative frameworks of protection and control as the cruder discourses of ‘white Australia’ offered to an earlier generation of cinema-goers. This film’s central motif of the lantana bush, the out of control weed, that is known as both foreign and local is here emblematic of tensions about belonging, place and otherness. Yet while, within the film’s knowingly reflexive purview any remaining potential for racism is understood and itself under control – we know how to be good mutliculturalists –it is the trope of sexuality in Lantana that provides the real sense of edginess and anxiety about belonging. It is in this arena that the film sets up an idea of danger and –less self-consciously, and in the end more aggressively – marks out who is and who is not part of the community. In this context the motif of lantana signals an ambivalence about difference and the exotic. Lantana is both desirable because of the difference in its attractive Latin looks and repulsive or feared because of other qualities inherent within its difference: a refusal to behave and a propensity to get out-of control, spread and potentially take over. The film here explores desire for a taste of the other (a gay man, a newly separated woman, a Latin dance teacher). However, these fantasies are in the end emphatically shut down as the film ends by producing a vision of subtly normalised hetero, mono, familial (though not necessarily happy) forms of desiring, loving and reproducing in contemporary Australia.

Keywords

Lantana; Australian cinema; national identity; Jennifer Rutherford; good neighbour

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