The Water Diviner
The earth keeps her secrets. And in the parched, red dirt of Australia, water is the most precious secret at all—one held most jealously. Only a rare few, like Joshua Connor, can suss it out with a pair of rods and a strange sixth sense. He holds the rods, follows where they point and starts to dig. Sometimes he carves out nothing but a big, dusty hole. He'll admit as much. But if he's right, he'll strike liquid treasure.
Not so long ago, Connor might've passed his dowsing on to his boys. He had three, once—lads who caught rabbits and built windmills and listened to their father read Arabian Nights over and over. But in 1915, in the teeth of World War I, all three went off to fight in the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey). They died on the same day, Connor and wife Eliza are told: August 7. The military returns their personal belongings—a blood-spattered diary among them. But they can't bring back the bodies, lost in the earth of Gallipoli. No one knows where they are.
The loss rips at Eliza's sanity. Sometimes she believes her boys are alive and home, and she forces Connor to read to their empty beds. Then she'll feel their absence with terrible, keen pain. "You lost them!" she shouts at Connor.
And then, one night, the tear is complete. Eliza walks out of their Australian farmhouse and into a pond—one probably pulled to the surface through Connor's dowsing.
Connor is alone in the world.
But he recalls a promise he once made to Eliza—to find their boys and bring their bodies back home. Recovery efforts are already underway in Gallipoli, and Connor's determined to help.
The task won't be easy. More than 100,000 men fell on eight square miles—their bodies turning the region into one giant, jumbled grave. To pick three brothers out of so many bones seems unlikely. Impossible, perhaps.
The earth keeps her secrets. It envelops them in her dusty cover, pulls them deep within herself. Connor must force her to offer one last treasure up to him—to give him back his boys.
Worn as he is by grief and hardship, Connor's determination to find his sons is remarkable. Occasionally that quest pits him against the authorities and causes him to make poor decisions or lose control. But his desire to fulfill this last act for his wife and boys, if he can, should inspire us—even as it inspires those who stand in his way. When one military man wonders aloud why they should help this solitary father who broke so many rules, another says, "Because he is the only father who came looking."
Connor receives help from some surprising quarters. Major Hasan, the commander who led the fight against the Australians and New Zealanders on Gallipoli (and is thus responsible for their deaths), encourages the British authorities to do what they can for Connor. And when Connor hits a snag in his search, Hasan points him down another promising path. The two eventually become friends, and they rescue each other from some prickly situations.
[Spoiler Warning] In the process of honoring his dead, Connor learns that one of his sons is still alive. Named Arthur, the lad is living in a small, Turkish village, stricken by overwhelming guilt springing from his belief that he's responsible for his brothers' deaths. He refuses to go home with his father, even though the town is under assault from Greek fighters who hope to claim this area of the war-torn Ottoman Empire for their own—and Connor refuses to go without him. Either they leave together or die together, Connor tells him. Finally, with a small smile, Arthur decides to leave with his water divining dad—and live.
Connor parts ways with God when his boys die. When he goes to the local church to arrange a funeral for Eliza, he admits to having no use for God—but he knows it was important for Eliza to be buried in consecrated ground. At first the pastor refuses, thinking Eliza may have killed herself. She didn't, Connor lies: "All I'm asking of you is to say some words and throw some dirt." The pastor finally gives in, but only if Connor gives his dog as an offering to the church.
Connor's faith hasn't vanished completely, though. He still makes reference to an afterlife, where his wife and boys are together. He is driven to bury his sons beside Eliza—then acquiesces to having them buried in Gallipoli beside their brothers in arms. "How much blood do you need [on this land] to be holy?" a British commander asks of him.
When Connor arrives in the crumbling Islamic Ottoman Empire, Ayshe, a widow working at his hotel, suggests he should visit Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque. "It's a beautiful place to find God," she says. "I didn't come for Him," Connor says. But he does visit the place and is moved by its beauty. He listens to the evening calls to prayer, and he encounters many people who reference or pray to Allah. Then, in a dream-like sequence, Connor sees "Whirling Dervishes," men who practice a form of Sufism (which is a mystical branch of Islam), believing that dancing and spinning around is a prayer to God.
For the record, dowsing, or water divining, is an unscientific way to find water that is thought by some (most famously Martin Luther) to be an occult practice. Ayshe reads Connor's fortune in tea leaves (and her verdict proves to be spot-on). The movie suggests Connor has prophetic dreams and visions. We hear talk of an Islamic heaven and God's providence.
The hotel Connor stays at appears to host a prostitute, who ushers an elderly man into her room. When she and Ayshe are kneading dough, she forms some of it into the shape of the male sex organ—suggesting that Ayshe may be interested in Connor's. Ayshe is, but she's also considering marrying the hotel owner—brother of her presumably dead husband—and serving as his second wife. (There seems to be no attraction between the two of them, but they deem it their duty to marry and provide for Orhan, Ayshe's 10-year-old boy.)
When men bathe on the beach we see rear nudity.
The Water Diviner earns its R here—in its bloody, horrific depiction of war. The brothers' fate, because it's so personal to Connor and, by extension, us, is particularly cruel. One of the young men is rendered immobile by a mortar blast—and when his siblings try to rescue him, they're brought down by machine gun fire, falling to either side of him. One has most of his face torn off. The other utters a high-pitched moan of pain with every breath—and we get the sense that it goes on for hours.
We witness a "mercy killing" in the midst of the war's devastation and anguish, with a man responding to pleas for death by putting a rifle bullet through his comrade's head. (We see the man's skull again four years later when it's pulled from the ground.)
More "ordinary" war casualties involve us seeing bodies of people (whose limbs have been blown off) lying in the dirt and shaking, or soldiers diving into a covered trench and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. One man is beaten to death with a rock. Another has barbed wire wrapped around his neck. A third is pummeled with a water canister.
These scenes are made to look and feel as barbaric as possible, showing the terror of war. We're repeatedly told how bloody the battles were—that 70,000 Turks died and tens of thousands of Allied forces fell as well. We see the bones and skulls from both sides.
Afterwards, Turkish independence fighters are ambushed and attacked by Greeks, with several being shot, stabbed and executed. Bodies of civilians lay red in the green grass. Someone smashes an assailant's head with a cricket bat. Military personnel barge into a hotel, breaking down doors, etc.
Ayshe is beaten by her soon-to-be husband. But when Connor comes to her rescue (tackling the man), Ayshe tells Connor that she hit him. Then the other man, his pride hurt, arranges an ambush to beat Connor senseless, whereupon both sides endure more abuse.
As mentioned, Eliza drowns herself. She's found the next morning, facedown in the water.
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word. We hear "a--," "d--n," "h---" and "bloody" two or three times each, "b--tard" five or six.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters smoke quite a lot—with cigarettes being a rather hot commodity. One Turkish soldier, when offered one, pockets several handfuls. We hear tales of the cancer sticks being stolen. Hasan and Connor drink from a bottle of liquor. Connor swigs from a smaller bottle he pulls from his coat.
Other Negative Elements
Orhan "steals" Connor's luggage in order to lead him to "his" hotel. Connor then undermines the boy's mother by allowing him to keep some money. "It's our secret," Connor says.
The Gallipoli Campaign is considered a formative event in the histories of both Turkey and Australia. For Australia, this bitterly fought series of battles was critical in forging a national identity apart from the British Empire. And Mustafa Kemal, the first president of modern Turkey, rose to prominence during Gallipoli. The movie suggests that in the aftermath of the war, many Turks were campaigning and in some cases fighting for their independence. (Modern Turkey was founded in 1923, four years after the events of The Water Diviner.)
But while these nations may remember the Gallipoli Campaign with a certain measure of pride, the movie shows us very little heroism in the midst of this war. That makes for an often brutal-feeling movie, as its maker (star Russell Crowe in his directorial debut) uses violent content like a cudgel to shock and, at times, even horrify.
When the movie shifts away from battlefield flashbacks, it also becomes something of a charming little romance. It certainly showcases an inspiring story about a man’s love for his sons. But it's ultimately the discordant spiritual notes and the pervasive violence that will leave moviegoers feeling parched.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Russell Crowe as Joshua Connor; Olga Kurylenko as Ayshe; Dylan Georgiades as Orhan; Yilmaz Erdogan as Major Hasan; Cem Yilmaz as Sergeant Jemel; Jai Courtney as Lt. Col. Cyril Hughes; Ryan Corr as Arthur Connor; Jacqueline McKenzie as Eliza Connor
Russell Crowe ( )
April 24, 2015
July 28, 2015