The Last Wave

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The Last Wave
Australian film poster
Directed byPeter Weir
Screenplay by
Produced byHal McElroy
James 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 US, 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, the main street of an outback town, a traffic jam in the city, all being affected by unusually adverse weather conditions that suddenly appear. 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 the mysterious death of one of them. At the coroner's inquest, the death is ruled a homicide; and four men are accused of murder. Through the Australian Legal Aid system, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is procured for their defence. The circumstances by which he was contacted and retained are unusual, in that his law practice is corporate taxation and not criminal defense. He nonetheless takes on the case, and his professional and personal lives begin to unravel.

Plagued by bizarre dreams, Burton begins to sense an otherworldly connection to one of the accused (David Gulpilil). He also feels connected to the increasingly strange weather phenomena besetting the city. His dreams intensify along with his obsession with the murder case, which he comes to believe is an Aboriginal tribal killing by curse, in which the victim believed. Learning more about Aboriginal practices and the concept of Dreamtime as a parallel world of existence, Burton comes to believe the strange weather bodes of a coming apocalypse.

The film climaxes in a confrontation between the lawyer and the tribe's shaman in a subterranean sacred site. Overcoming the shaman, Burton escapes to the surface, but in the tunnel loses various tribal relics. After emerging from the sewer, he collapses on the beach and stares entranced at the horizon. The screen is filled by the shot of a 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?" Entered in the 6th Tehran International Film Festival in November 1977, the film won the Golden Ibex prize.

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 Last Wave was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection as spine #142.[8]

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,[9] which is equivalent to $5,786,800 in 2009 dollars.

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]

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. ^ "The Last Wave". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  9. ^ Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office

External links[edit]