Posts Tagged ‘Lee Tamahori’

We’ve been bad. Three weeks have passed since our last post. While I won’t make excuses, I’ll just say that we’ve been trying to lead a more “kiwi lifestyle” and the immersion has come at the cost of Sheap Travel. This is us climbing back on the blogging saddle.

Our double summer has finally come to an end. The temperature in Queenstown has dropped to the low-teens (celsius!) and the once green tree line has become a palette of yellow, orange and amber. We may be a zillion miles from home, but the foliage gives Queenstown a familiar New England vibe. Despite the cooling mercury there have been plenty of sunny fall days. We’ve mastered the 18-hole frisbee golf course in the botanic gardens and spent an afternoon at the Arrotown Autumn Festival one town over. One of my favorite experiences was hiking the first leg of the Routeburn Track.

picnic break before climb to Falls Hut

picnic break before climb to Routeburn Falls Hut

While we’ve had many awesome outdoor adventures in Queenstown (and will be sure to share them in future posts), a cultural immersion would not be complete without experiencing local art. We recently teamed up with our flatmates to buy a DVD player and the investment has already paid dividends. I’ve been exposed to several new movies over the past month and some of them have blown me away.

So, in a deviation from our typical content, I want to use this space to share my thoughts on a kiwi film I watched last week, “Once Were Warriors.” You can see the trailer here.


1994 DVD cover

“Once Were Warriors” is a 1994 film centered around the Hekes, a Maori family who live in a state-funded house near Auckland. The story is primarily about the destructive relationship between the alcoholic patriarch, Jake, and his loving but oppressed wife, Beth. While their interaction takes center stage, it is the effect of their choices on their six children that delivers the film’s gut-wrenching message.

This is a violent movie. Director Lee Tamahori, whose filmography includes the 2002 Bond flick “Die Another Day” and the Morgan Freeman thriller “Along Came a Spider,” has created a gritty film that is worlds apart from his more well-known blockbusters. “Warriors” features stylized violence in the sense that fights are coupled with rock music–similar to Tarantino’s type of gore–but the violence impacts me much harder than any Tarantino movie has. That’s because this is a story about abuse–domestic, substance and sexual abuse–so when the violent scenes end and the music fades away, we are left with the distraught victims and the feeling that we have just witnessed a horrific crime but are powerless to do anything about it.

Jake Heke is a deeply flawed protagonist. We first meet him when he tells Beth that he lost his job and is content going on welfare since it’s almost the same as his wage. When Beth scolds him for ignoring his responsibilities as the family provider, Jake screams at her and storms off to the pub. We quickly see that he is more at home at the pub with his friends than he is at his house with his family. Later that night, Jake invites his friends over to continue drinking. When Beth refuses to scramble eggs for the men, Jake snaps and beats her savagely. His friends quietly leave, his children cower under their bed, and Beth is helpless.

Jake and Beth, played by kiwi actors Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen

Jake and Beth, played by kiwi actors Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen

The next morning, their oldest daughter Gracie goes through the familiar motions of putting the house back together and feeding her younger siblings. Beth’s face is so swollen that she can’t leave the house to attend her son’s court appearance. When her friend sees her, Beth says she deserved the beating by arguing with Jake. While this follows the too-familiar discourse of a victim blaming herself, the friend’s response is startling: “You know better girl. Keep your mouth shut and your legs open.”

The fact that domestic violence is an accepted norm in the world of the story is scary. What’s more upsetting is that it is a very real issue in the real world it is based on. Meg and I have seen countless billboards and advertisements against domestic violence throughout New Zealand. Conversations with locals have made it clear that this is a serious national issue, particularly among impoverished Maori families. Among other achievements, “Warriors” breathes life into a problem that forces viewers–especially in a society where the problem is prevalent–to acknowledge reality.

This is a story about abuse, but it’s also a love story. Beth claims to love Jake despite his brutality. On one hand, that sounds like an excuse for her fear. But there are two scenes where we see the other side of Jake: a loving husband who serenades his wife in front of their friends and a dutiful father who rents a car so the kids can visit their brother in a youth home–the latter includes this happy¬†sing-along¬†moment.

Jake and Beth sing for their friends

One of the film’s lighter moments

These two scenes are warm and rich with emotion. We see what Jake is capable of and why Beth fell in love with him. But they are also positioned next to the film’s two most brutal scenes. Obviously that is not a coincidence.

I highly recommend “Once Were Warriors.” As a movie it is fast and gripping. The performances are brilliant, particularly Rena Owen as Beth. As a medium for societal introspection, the film is graphically effective. I will caution that it is not for everyone. It features intense violence, including a nauseating rape scene. The film seems to operate under the theory that violence on any level is absolutely unacceptable, but in order to repel people against violence you have to show it in a very raw and vicious form. After watching this movie I believe that is an accurate theory.


I’m very curious to hear other peoples thoughts. If you’ve seen “Once Were Warriors” already or end up watching it in the near future, feel free to share your reaction here. It’s a heavy movie but, in my opinion, one worth watching.


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