The Last Wave

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The Last Wave
Australian film poster
Directed byPeter Weir
Screenplay by
Produced byHal and Jim McElroy
CinematographyRussell Boyd
Edited byMax Lemon
Music byCharles Wain
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
13 December 1977 (1977-12-13)
Running time
106 minutes
Box office
  • A$1.258 million (Australia)
  • $866,250 (US)[3]

The Last Wave (also released in the United States as Black Rain) is a 1977 Australian mystery drama film directed by Peter Weir.[4][5] It is about a white solicitor in Sydney whose seemingly normal life is disrupted after he takes on a murder case and discovers that he shares a strange, mystical connection with the small group of local Aboriginal people accused of the crime.


The film opens with a montage of scenes of daily life in Australia in the 1970s: A rural school in the desert with children playing, the main street of an outback town, a traffic jam in the city, all being affected by unusually adverse weather conditions that suddenly appear. Heavy rainfall followed by unusually large chunks of hail breaking through the windows of the school injuring students, a frog infestation and other anomalies. Only the local Aboriginal people seem to recognize the cosmological significance of these weather phenomena.

During one of these freak rainstorms in Sydney, an altercation occurs among a group of Aboriginal people in a pub which results in a mysterious drowning death. At the coroner's inquest, the death is ruled a homicide and four of the Aboriginal men are accused of murder. Through the Australian Legal Aid system, a lawyer named David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is procured for their defence. Due to internal politics and the eschatological divide between the European settlers and Indigenous people, the circumstances by which he was contacted and retained are unusual in that his law practice is corporate taxation and not criminal defence. He is reluctant at first but is intrigued by the challenge and takes on the case, which shortly leads to his professional and personal life beginning to unravel.

Burton starts having bizarre dreams involving running water, drowned corpses, and one of being visited in his home by one of the incarcerated Aboriginals named Chris Lee (David Gulpilil), whom he had never met. When later introduced to the four accused men, he recognizes Lee and begins to sense an otherworldly connection to him and to the increasingly strange weather phenomena besetting the city. His dreams intensify along with his obsession with the murder case and he comes to suspect that the murder was an Aboriginal tribal execution in which a curse is put on the victim simply by pointing a bone at him. Lee refuses to admit that he is tribal or reveals anything about the murder but tells Burton that his dreams have meaning because he is "Mulkurul"; descended from a race of spirits who came from the rising sun bringing sacred objects with them. After meeting with the shaman of Lee's tribe and learning more about Aboriginal practices and the concept of Dreamtime as a parallel world of existence, Burton comes to believe that his dreams and the strange heavy rain bode as signs of a coming apocalypse. After another intense dream, Burton senses danger and persuades his wife to leave the city with their children right before a torrential storm causes a flooding disaster.

In the chaos of the flood, Lee manages to escape from prison to find Burton and take him down through subterranean tunnels under the city which lead to a sacred Aboriginal ritual site. Lee shows him the entrance to another ancient chamber nearby that is strangely familiar to him and sends him off to find the answers that he seeks. In the chamber, Burton sees a painting on the ceiling depicting the arrival of European explorers from South America and a calendrical prophecy of a cataclysmic oceanic disaster. He finds a collection of ancient relics, a decayed corpse of a man wearing middle-age Western garments and a stone mask which after close inspection, bears a face identical to his own. He collects as many relics as he can carry but is suddenly confronted by the tribe's shaman shouting and lunging at him. They struggle and Burton kills the shaman with one of the stone relics. He tries to find his way back to the surface through the sewer tunnels, but he loses the relics along the way. He finally emerges through a drain pipe exhausted, then collapses on the beach and stares entranced at the horizon. He realizes that he can never go back to his old life after what had just happened. Then we see the look of both shock and acceptance on his face as the screen is filled by footage of a surreal towering ocean wave, though it remains unclear whether we are witnessing reality or sharing in Burton's final apocalyptic premonition.



In an interview on the Criterion Collection DVD release, director Peter Weir explains that the film explores the question, "What if someone with a very pragmatic approach to life experienced a premonition?"

Finance was provided by the Australian Film Commission ($120,000), the South Australian Film Corporation ($120,000), Janus Films (US$50,000) and United Artists ($350,000). US based writer Petru Popescu worked on the script. Weir considered two Australian actors to play the lead but eventually decided to go with Richard Chamberlain. Filming started 24 February 1977 and took place in Adelaide and Sydney.[6]

Reception and accolades[edit]

The Last Wave was met with positive reviews from critics and audiences, earning an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also holds an 85/100 on Metacritic.[7]

The film was entered in the 6th Tehran International Film Festival in November 1977, and won the Golden Ibex prize.

Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(1977 AFI Awards)
Best Direction Peter Weir Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Tony Morphett Nominated
Petru Popescu Nominated
Best Actor Richard Chamberlain Nominated
Best Cinematography Russell Boyd Won
Best Editing Max Lemon Nominated
Best Original Music Score Charles Wain Nominated
Best Sound Greg Bell Won
Don Connolly Won
Phil Judd Won


Box office[edit]

The Last Wave was not as popular as Weir's 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, but still grossed $1,258,000 at the box office in Australia.[8]

United Artists decided not to release the film in the US but it was picked up by World Northal and distributed in the US as Black Rain.[3]

Home media[edit]

In the United States and Canada, The Last Wave was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection as spine #142 and is available on their bespoke streaming service, The Criterion Channel.[9]

In Australia, The Last Wave was remastered and released onto DVD & Blu-ray by Umbrella Entertainment in September 2020 as the first film in the Sunburnt Screens collection.[10] Umbrella later re-released the film onto 4K Blu-ray in September 2023.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Last Wave (Image Gallery) (Blu-ray). Umbrella Entertainment. 2020. Event occurs at 0:02:15. DAVID4174.
  2. ^ Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 321-322
  3. ^ a b "Overseas Releases", Cinema Papers, May–June 1979 p332
  4. ^ Variety film review; 16 November 1977, p. 21.
  5. ^ "The Last Wave". Creative Spirits. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  6. ^ David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p75-77
  7. ^ "Black Rain Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  8. ^ "Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
  9. ^ "The Last Wave". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  10. ^ "Last Wave, The (Sunburnt Screens #1) Blu-Ray". Umbrella Entertainment. Retrieved 14 September 2023. Release Date: September 2020
  11. ^ "The Last Wave (4K UHD + Blu-Ray) (1977)". Umbrella Entertainment. Retrieved 14 September 2023. Release Date: September 2023

External links[edit]