Once Were Warriors (1994) regards the modern day lives of a Mauri family in an urban setting of slummy south Auckland. They are shown to be a proud people afflicted with poverty, violence, & alcoholism.
It apparently had divided reception by Mauri people themselves. Some resented content that made their families appear to be in serious crisis, their children attracted to urban gangs & crime, a husband (as played so charismaticly by Temuera Morrison) drunk & monstrously traumatizing to the home & an outright danger to his wife (equally charismatic Rena Owen).
Other Mauri have defended the film & fully applauded the film's honesty about the effects of poverty & injustice; the amazing acting that made each character sympathetic or at least undestandable; & the film's hope for a family bond unbroken no matter the odds, together with its clear insinuations that authentic Mauri folkways just might provide salves for just such families.
My own sense, as a distant American who cannot assess the truth or lack of truth from personal experiences of native New Zealanders, I found Once Were Warriors to be a film of great beauty, a film that understands loss, that understands sadness, & respects deeply the people this film is about.
This family can be understood in terms of universality, not as respresentatives of one race. I worried for the Heke family, who deserved so much better than what their lot has been.
I wanted them to rise above circumstances they did not create, rather than being plowed under.
I hoped that in spite of Jake Heke's mistrust of "political" & "traditional" Maori that even he would discover how traditions might be restorative, if he & his family could reconnect with something uniquely Maori that can never be taken away.
Hope, however, is not a magic cure from Walt Disney apportioned for the sake of easy endings for feel-good films. One's best efforts can be futile; domestic violence leaves lasting scars; a young daughter (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell as Grace), still a child, can be saddled with adult responsibilities. If a man or a woman's desire to be people of strength & integrity is sabatoged by the dominant culture, not everyone can transcend imbalance & injustice. And even moments of success can be bittersweet.
Once Were Warriors will leave you emotionally exhausted, but you'll never forget it. Few films have an lastingly enriching effect on the viewer. This is one of those rarities.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl