Dennis O'Rourke

film 2 of 4

Half Life

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

Dennis O’Rourke is a regional filmmaker, broadly speaking. He’s Australian, and he’s covered that waterfront. But he also takes an interest in and has access to a number of pressing Oceanic and Asian issues, bringing to them a certain hemispheric, maybe antipodean perspective that Northerners of all sorts of stripes may not have considered, or considered enough.

This documentary provides pretty convincing evidence that the post-war Americans blithely engaged in the same kind of presumptuous medical experimentation with perceived inferior races as did the Nazi doctors. It’s not the same thing, since Nazi villainy was so much more widespread, and since their ideologies were so through-and-through rotten. But it’s kind of the same thing. Shame, shame.

Atomic footage is always terrifying, always so terrible. The stock footage of these poor doomed natives registers nearly as appallingly. There is some complexity here. O’Rourke lets his witnesses have their say, and they give two impressions. One is of a kind of Edenic devastation. The other is characterized or embodied by that somnolent island guitar we keep hearing. Excessive languor! We often or even usually idealize victimized cultures. There are emotional reasons, even moral ones, and the impulse may speak well of us. But it’s not true to history, or morality either. There is much that could have been addressed or reformed here.

On the other hand, what does that have to do with anything? It probably all comes down to that photo album, and the payoff that you just knew was coming. “And this is a picture of my son’s funeral…”