Last Cab to Darwin is a fascinating film on many levels. On one strata it is a story about human relationships and lost and emerging opportunities. On another it is about the exploration of a harshly beautiful and ancient landscape and its people which exposes deep racial prejudice and injustice. And throughout, is the central theme of allowing those afflicted with a terminal illness to die with dignity at a time of their choosing. The ethical dilemmas surrounding euthanasia form a powerful commentary around this well-crafted film that combines excellent performances, with a powerful narrative and strong visuals.
Set in Australia, the film is based upon the 2003 stage play of the same name by Reg Cribb. The central character Rex (played by Michael Caton), is a taxi driver in the remote western New South Wales town of Broken Hill. The craggy sixty something Rex is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides he wants to end his life by euthanasia rather than endure a slow and painful death in hospital. Darwin in the Northern Territory is the only Australian city where euthanasia can be legally performed so he decides to make the epic 3,000 kilometre journey driving his own cab.
The long journey to Darwin serves as a metaphor. It is a journey about learning; gleaning knowledge about the physical realities of an outback world previously unknown to Rex and also learning about himself; testing his values and beliefs and reaching for a deeper understanding of the influences that have shaped his life.
The separation resulting from the journey also brings into sharp focus the meaning and importance of Rex’s long term relationship with his indigeneous friend in Broken Hill played by Ningali Lawford-Wolf. Through many poignant telephone discussions, often punctuated with grief, despair, humour and joy, the two build a relationship stronger than that experienced back home. Their interaction and growth as individuals is one of the highlights of the film.
As the journey progresses Rex comes into close contact with indigenous inhabitants of the Northern Territory with whom he has great affinity. He meets many other transient and local inhabitants along the way who help build mutual understanding but these also deepen the ethical debate surrounding euthanasia.
Superb performances by Michael Caton ably supported by Tilly (played by Mark Coles Smith), an indigenous man with a devilish streak fighting his own emotional issues and Julie (played by Emma Hamilton), a British nurse on holidays, provide the gravitas for this profound and deeply moving story.
Last Cab to Darwin makes effective use of laconic humour which provides the levity necessary to balance the often confronting issues embraced by the film.
This film is one of the best to emerge from Australia for some time and is highly recommended.
Last Cab to Darwin is directed by Jeremy Sims.
Cast: Michael Caton, Jacki Weaver, Emma Hamilton, Mark Coles Smith, Ningali Lawford-Wolf
Released 2015. Running time: 123 minutes.
available for sale now on DVD and for rental in a few weeks.