[12 September 2011]
PopMatters Features Editor
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Cast: Matthew Goode, Bojana Novakovic, Essie Davis, Kerry Fox, Rachel Griffiths, Jack Heanly
This is a perfectly devastating Australian film about the horror of loss and the futility of refusing to face up to grief. Impressively channeling a cross between a charmingly winning Hugh Grant and a smirky Colin Ferrell on a bender, Matthew Goode plays a man on the edge, the burning man of the title, shattered by a recent, but unspoken tragedy. He curses relentlessly, drinks excessively, womanizes voraciously, and meanwhile he fails to care for his son, neglects his work, and winds up in an horrific traffic accident.
We learn all of this in brief snatches during a perhaps overly chaotic opening 20 minutes—the film follows the cut-and-paste narrative style of, say, Pulp Fiction—but soon the film settles down and so do we. Indeed, as the collection of pieces began to fit together into a coherent whole, I found myself dumbstruck at the depth of my emotional involvement in the characters.
When the darkest corners of the story finally see some light, Burning Man connects with all of the force of a high-speed impact; in other words, it made me cry for pretty well the final hour of its runtime. Straight. Featuring a veritable bevy of fine actresses, including a heartbreaking Bojana Novakovic and an underused Rachel Griffiths. Not for the faint of heart, but this is a rewarding journey into the depths of sorrow, and down the road to recovery.