On its surface, The Water Diviner is a simple and straightforward film that combines beautifully crafted visceral sequences with a moving, if somewhat sentimentalized narrative centered on divining the precious and mystical forces of life-giving elements and the consequent tragedy of losing such primal matter to life-bleeding wars.
Russell Crowe plays Connor, an Australian outback dad who watches as his three sons go off to fight in the trenches against the Turks at Gallipoli in 1915. The sons don’t come back, a fact that drives their mother to madness and suicide and leaves the father with so much grief that he resolves in 1919 to redeem some meaning from his sons’ deaths by going to the Lone Pine battlefield to find their bodies and bring them home for burial in Australia.
Water is a significant player in this film, both as symbol and as a primal natural force. Connor is also a diviner, and as the film’s narrative begins, we see him circling a patch of sere outback looking for water to sustain his family’s life and nurture their semi-subsistence farm existence. This image is tellingly superimposed with the dance of whirling dervishes, an image that connects the water diviner with the mystical Sufi trance-dance of supplication.
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(Still of Russell Crowe in The Water Diviner. © 2014 – Mister Smith Entertainment)