NEW YORK –– A poignant yet challenging drama, Australian writer-director Claire McCarthy’s “The Waiting City” (Emerging) is a well-crafted exploration of emotional bonds that probes both the vulnerabilities and the fundamental value of one married couple’s life together. With the rich culture of India providing a vibrant backdrop, the film also tells a story of spiritual awakening, though it does so in a way that blurs the line between the good news of Christianity and the beliefs of the subcontinent’s Hindu majority.
Traveling from their native Australia to Kolkata – the teeming city formerly called Calcutta – to finalize their adoption of a baby girl, buttoned-up, work-obsessed lawyer Fiona (Radha Mitchell) and her laid-back husband Ben (Joel Edgerton) find themselves bogged down by bureaucratic delays. It forces them to remain in this alien setting for a longer visit than expected.
While Fiona stays cooped up in their expensive hotel room pursuing her business affairs via the Internet, ex-rock musician Ben – guitar in hand – sets out to see the sites and meet the locals. Their diametrically opposed reactions to their new environment, plus the tensions brought on by red tape and the other complications they eventually confront, combine to reveal the underlying fissures in Ben and Fiona’s marriage.
As the spouses question their future together, Fiona’s purely secular outlook begins to be eroded. This occurs both by the pervasive Hindu imagery that surrounds her – ranging from religiously themed postcards to the life-sized statues of gods carried in procession through the streets – and by the patient wisdom displayed by the Missionaries of Charity who staff the orphanage where her adoptive daughter has been living.
While these heirs of Mother Teresa are portrayed in a consistently positive light, little distinction is made between their faith and the traditions that motivate Fiona to bathe in the Ganges or, in a later scene, to bow down before a woman she momentarily mistakes for the patron goddess of maternity. Thus, though McCarthy effectively pits mundane values against transcendent ones, her script seems to imply that any given source of nonmaterialist values is as good as any other.
The maturity needed to sort through this mixed religious content, and to deal with the movie’s basically pro-life, but emotionally taxing treatment of abortion, mark this as moving fare for a restricted audience.
The film contains complex religious issues, brief graphic marital lovemaking, an abortion theme, at least one use of profanity, a few instances of rough and crude language and some scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online.