The Still Point

(Barbara Boyd-Anderson, Australia, 1986)


The Still Point belongs not in the teen-movie tradition of American pop cinema (eg. the work of John Hughes), but squarely in the tradition of humanist literature written for teenagers, particularly teenage girls.

Although there are perfunctory details of modern pop music and teenage fashions, the themes focussed on by the film are the timeless, universal ones of teenage literature: youthful alienation, the generation gap, the modern condition of the single-parent family and the problem of introducing new lovers into the picture, the confused burgeoning of teen sexuality.

Emphasised are the optimistic themes of personal growth, effort and compromise between parent and child in order to reach mutual understanding, and integration into a supportive community.

The teenage alienation of Sarah (Nadine Garner) finds a vivid dramatic correlative in her deafness (although this condition is rather poorly established in the story's exposition). Boyd-Anderson's direction is undynamic, particularly in the early interior scenes detailing Sarah's fraught relations with her mother (Lyn Semmler), her lover Paul (Alex Menglet), and her distant, businessman father, although the script gestures towards some interesting emotional knots: Sarah blaming herself for the failure of her parents' marriage, and her playing an almost maternal role with her father ("I could look after you"). Least well dramatised is Menglet's function as a spontaneous life-force reinvigorating the mother (it is an unfortunately passionless film), and the fleeting transcendence Sarah experiences in a music-box with a rotating figurine of a ballet dancer, an image repeated rather too often.

The narrative device of a country idyll, in which the protagonist is thrown into a new world and makes new friends, is beloved of both teen-movies and teen-literature. When Sarah visits her grandfather (Robin Cuming), the film moves into the livelier territory of first love with a sensitive guy (Steve Bastoni), the various social pressures exerted by teen peer groups, and the gradual bridging of the generation gap, mediated through loveable, understanding Granddad.

Key scenes, such as the teenage party, have little directorial colour, and the climactic emotional confrontations between family members make strange use of slow zooms and tensely silent temps mort.

The film has its notable qualities. Garner's ability to convey the ‘pissed off’, exasperated emotional states peculiar to teenagers is wonderful, and the final scene (complete with a quotation from T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton") is strikingly irresolute, refusing the expected tie-up of all emotional problems.

The Still Point is true to the teen-literature genre, and has probably been successfully used as a discussion-starter on typical adolescent problems in secondary school classrooms. As a contemporary teen movie, however, it scarcely gets off the ground.

MORE Australian teens: Lex and Rory, Secrets, BMX Bandits, The Heartbreak Kid, Looking for Alibrandi

© Adrian Martin January 1991

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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