One of my favourite teenage novels has been made into a movie and after seeing it on the big screen last night it has raised a lot of questions for me.
Tomorrow, When the War Began is an Australian movie based on a novel of the same name by John Marsden. The first novel was so successful it went on to become the Tomorrow series with seven books and a follow up series of novels, The Ellie Chronicles.
Tomorrow, When the War Began is a story set in a fictional country town in Australia. A group of seven teenagers – Ellie, Homer, Corrie, Kevin, Robyn, Fiona and Lee - head off for a weekend away before they begin their final year of school. The main character is Ellie Linton, a likeable independent country girl. They trek to a beautiful and remote camping spot named Hell. During one of their nights in Hell a few of the group are woken by jets flying overhead and while a little perplexed don’t really think further about it.
On returning from their camping trip, they discover Ellie’s family dog dead and her home empty. On further inspection there is no power, no telephone signal, no television reception and no internet connection. Puzzled and a little panicked they move onto the next home – Homer’s – and are met with a similar scene. After visiting the homes of Kevin and Corrie, both of which are outside the main town – they come to the conclusion that something tragic has unfolded during their absence and that it is linked to the planes they saw a few nights prior. The next home they visit is Robyn’s which offers a view over the town. Here they discover the whole town is in darkness apart from the showground and the local hospital. They make the decision to split up – Robyn and Lee to check out Lee’s home in the centre of town, Homer and Fiona to do the same at Fiona’s and Ellie, Corrie and Kevin to try and discover what is going on at the showground.
Ellie’s group manages to get to the showground and see that residents of the town are being kept there with large numbers of foreign soldiers on guard. Ellie creeps a little closer and sees her parents behind a barbwire fence and after witnessing a man killed for arguing with a soldier, she quickly departs and attracts the attention of the soldiers. Running from the soldiers, Ellie is forced to stop them by blowing up a ride on lawn mower and seriously wounding, possibly even killing the soldiers.
From this point on the teenagers begin to fight back and undertake a form of guerrilla warfare. Combined with their local knowledge and experience around firearms, machinery and explosives gleaned from their rural upbringing, they cause plenty of problems for the invading army.
The movie was remarkably true to the book and most impressive. There was no cringe factor which is sometimes evident when a book becomes a movie, or as sometimes occurs as an Australian watching a local film. It was a nice feeling to see the characters on screen and I developed a real liking for Ellie – she was wonderfully brought to life by actress Caitlin Stasey. Homer was another character I really liked from the novel and I wasn’t disappointed with him either.
When I first read this book, as a teenager, I did wonder what I would do if Australia was invaded. Could I be as brave as these young characters and fight back to defend loved ones, would I struggle with the idea of killing other people as one of the characters does, or would I simply be too scared and surrender? It’s a confronting question and one I hope that I never have to answer.
There were moments during this movie that I was emotional and despite these characters being fictional I felt deeply for them. I also shed a few tears as the movie explored relationships and the thought of losing loved ones.
I asked myself why I was so emotional about it (aside from possible hormonal reasons) and I’ve come to the conclusion that my emotions are partly influenced by a book I am currently reading. It’s called the Strength of a Nation and it tells the real life stories of the many Australian men and women affected by World War Two and the threat of invasion Australia faced during the war years.
It tells of the heroics, sacrifices, mistakes and bravery that cost the lives of so many young Australians on shores far from Australia and those who fought in the Pacific to prevent a possible invasion of Australia. These young men and women, not much older than the characters in Tomorrow When the War Began, were real people with families and friends. The non-fiction book I am reading tells us more about who these people were and the enormous sacrifice they made to protect the innocent from invading forces.
One important note, John Marsden doesn’t ever reveal the nationality of the invading forces but states Australia has been invaded because neighbouring nations are overpopulated and they believe Australia should share its territory and natural resources. The movie however depicts the enemy as Asian soliders without defining a particular nation. With Australia’s neighbouring nations predominantly within the Asia region, it’s a common assumption that most readers of the book would have made.
On a final note, my recommendation is to take a few hours and see this movie. It’s impressive, great casting and it will make you consider a whole range of issues. Plus it’s a great chance to support our local film industry. It’s well worth it. I highly recommend Tomorrow When the War Began.