Having worked extensively in documentaries and television, Australian director Kim Farrant makes her fiction feature debut with the outback mystery Strangerland.
In Strangerland, the marriage between pharmacist Mathew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) and his fading rose wife, Catherine (Nicole Kidman) is already on shaky ground when their children, young Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) and sexually precocious teenager Lily (Maddison Brown) run away from home. As the search for the missing children, lost in the limitless desert that surrounds the outback town of Nathgari, proves fruitless and the likelihood of the pair being returned diminishes, the tensions underlying their relationship threaten to tear it asunder.
“I actually had a theme that I wanted to explore around how we act out in times of crisis,” director Kim Farrant explains. “So I found a writer, Fiona Seres, and approached her about exploring that through the vessel of a family who with secrets, a family whose children runaway. From there we developed an outline together, and then she wrote the screenplay.”
Over the course of the development period, Strangerland began to change in numerous small but significant ways, as Farrant and her collaborators learned more about the outback environment and its history.
“The main change that became apparent as we were researching the story, once we decided we wanted to set it in the outback because it was a place that would put more pressure on the characters. When we went out there on location recces, we discovered that the population blend of these communities was way more mixed than we’d thought in terms of white people and Aboriginal people. It seemed that, in order to be true to that, we needed to look into the Aboriginality, the kind of spirit of the place.”
That also meant looking into the cultural myths that have propagated around the notion of children going missing in the bush – an occurrence that is still all too common. “What we found was when the colonials came way back when and took the land from the original owners, the Aboriginal people, when their own white children would go wandering off into this vast landscape, they felt that somehow the land was publishing them by taking their children. So that whole element, we wanted to permeate through the script, and to really highlight this kind of white anxiety.”
The film also tackles the complex subject of female sexuality, contrasting Lily’s adolescent explorations with her mother’s frustrated desires. “There’s something that can happen if you’re a woman who has been sexually objectified by the sheer fact that you’re pretty. We were interested in a character who had been incredibly beautiful growing up and then traded on their currency of their body and what happens when they hit their 40s when things start to sag and you start to wrinkle and you’re less visible to the male gaze.
“So, Catherine’s in her mid to late 40s, she’s no longer needed as a parent, and she can’t trade on her looks as much and her husband is estranged from her emotionally. So she’s kind of at a place of loss within herself and a bit lost as to what to do with herself. So when her kids go missing, all those feelings start to surface.”