Film Review: Proof (1992)
Published on: December 16, 1997
Leading Players: Hugo Weaving (Martin), Genevieve Picot (Celia), Russell Crowe (Andy), Heather Mitchell (Martin's Mother), Jeffrey Walker (Young Martin), Daniel Pollock (Gary-the Punk), Frank Gallacher (Vet), Frankie J. Holden (Brian-Policeman), Saskia Post (Waitress), Belinda Davey (Doctor).
Main Crew: prod, Lynda House; dir, Jocelyn Moorhouse; writ, Jocelyn Moorehouse; dop, Martin McGrath; ed, Ken Sallows; mus, Not Drowning Waving; prod d, Patrick Reardon; cos, Cerri Barnett..
A remarkable debut directorial effort from one of Australia's finest filmmaking talents, Jocelyn Moorhouse's Proof is a stylish example of the nation's post New Wave cinema. Moorhouse has skillfully integrated socially relevant themes with familiar, banal, suburban settings and naturalistic acting in creating a powerful, dark work that highlights the fears and weaknesses that reside within each of us.
An appealing premise has one of the characters, a blind man, occupying his spare time as a photographer. He takes photos in an attempt to bring balance and security to his life comfortable in the knowledge that what he perceives is representative of what the world actually holds for him. To her credit, Moorhouse did not allow the film to denigrate into the light-hearted comedy that seems so obvious. However, she has allowed for dark, dry, comic situations to run throughout the picture in order to anchor the film on a very human level so as to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. The comic interludes also represent trust, the film's most important theme, as they are rarely shared between Celia (Genevieve Picot) and Martin (Hugo Weaving) who are at loggerheads.
In fact, Celia's relationship with Martin can only be described as sexually obsessive. Withstanding his abuse for years as she worked as his cleaner and assistant, Celia refuses to leave Martin since she has grown psychotically obsessed with the thought of having her way with him. While Martin laps up Celia's attention, we come to realise that the only reason that he allows her to remain under his employ is due to the fact that he pities her, instead of her feeling sorry for him. The untrusting relationship that the two share mirrors Martin's relationship with his mother. His manner of dealing with their differences, on both occasions, is handled with a great deal of mysogyny.
Martin, as a character, is also in a state of being that borders on psychosis. The lack of faith that he holds in mankind has forced a fateful paradox upon him. That is, while he feels that photos will provide the unalterable, all-seeing proof that he needs to justify his behaviour and his interaction with others, he holds so little faith in the integrity of others that he cannot have his photos descibed to him. This is, of course, until he meets Andy (Russell Crowe), a likeable Aussie larrikin with whom Martin eventually feels comfortable. As the relationship ensues, a sense of suppressed homosexuality tends to come to the fore, driving Celia closer to the brink of insanity. The subdued homosexual cues, coupled with Celia's determined seduction ritual with both men, creates a powerful sense of sexual tension that underlies the film and the motivations of each of the characters. In doing so, the audience is made aware of the heightened emotional state of the three players as their relationship progresses to an almost surreal emotional plateau.
Such an emotional overload clouds Martin's mind, thus emphasising one of the film's main themes regarding perception, and the fact that we depend on those around us for confirmation of our own perceptions. Martin's striving to find the one person trustworthy enough to confirm that what he perceived as reality was actually so is a metaphor for the tendency for all humans to locate trustworthy associates through whom their vision of the world can be confirmed. His physical blindness also indicates the shortfalls in the human condition that leaves many of us blind to certain aspects of our own existence. The extreme amplification of sounds in the film that we are generally not made aware is proof of the fact that we all view reality differently, and serves to strengthen our insight into Martin's own strengths and weaknesses.
It is ultimately sound, as a metaphor for the psychological and physical noise that clouds our own perceptions, that most prevalently drives the narrative to its conclusion. Martin's ultimate failing to listen past the vibrating barrier of his window as a youth is symbolic of the fact that sometimes, the medium through which we view (or experience) life can be skewed as a result of a number of factors, causing our perception to be unclear. The fact that the physical element that obscured Martin's understanding of the world was transparent builds on the same theme, pointing out that those elements in our lives that limit our own perceptions of reality are often invisible, leading us to believe strongly that our own view is correct. Ultimately, as Martin discovered, this is not always the case.
While Moorhouse has dealt with a number of demanding, cerebral themes in Proof, her film-making style made many of these, much like the fatefully deceiving window, almost invisible. The naturalistic acting styles of the three leads, coupled with a clever, biting humor and familiar settings undoubtedly strengthened the picture, both in its surface appeal and its effectiveness to carry such a message. Likewise, the editing style and framing of each shot, while artful, fails to draw attention to itself and thus allows for such an emotive spectacle to be played out in front of us without feeling contrived.
One of the most dramatic elements of the film's construction, and the only element to advertently draw attention to itself, is its sound. Not only is the powerful musical soundtrack used to great effect, but the foley editing and sound mixing has been enhanced to create an almost surreal atmosphere in many of the film's more visually silent moments in which a number of mundane sounds exude a crescendo of energy.
Proof is a powerful, emotive cinematic experience that, through the use of a naturalistic mise-en-scene, remains solidly planted on a temporal level. Upon further investigation, however, the audience is made aware that a number of subtleties in the mise-en-scene, lighting, music and the characters' portrayals each convey meaning. When pieced together, it is clear to behold that Jocelyn Moorhouse's first feature film is both a clear example of the post-New Wave revivalist cinema and a powerful thematic art work that can only be fully appreciated when we employ all of our senses.