Jindabyne, the Australian film by Ray Lawrence (who made the superb "Lantana" five years ago) begins with a murder and a rape, though we only see the predator and his victim, an aboriginal girl, but not the crime itself, though we see the murderer dumping his victim into a stream. And then it becomes the story of a failing marriage and their young son Tom, who, under the influence of a neighbor girl, kills his class's pet hamster in a filmmaker's nod to the great "Forbidden Games." And then the husband, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), and three friends, on an overnight fishing trip to the same stream, find the body of the girl but choose not to report it until they've finished their fishing trip.
As the news of their callous response to the murder comes through the town of Jindabyne, the men still don't get it, but Byrne's wife Claire (Laura Linney) is appalled at him and wants him to acknowledge his guilt. But she has a skeleton in her own closet: she abandoned him and their baby for eighteen months just after his birth, In fact it seems as though everyone has been abandoned, left to their own barely adequate survival skills; Stewart and Claire's closest friends are the grandparents of the girl who induced Tom to kill the hamster; her mother has disappeared as well.
Stewart, who owns an auto-repair shop, is a man barely able to express himself, but Claire will not let this go. She tries to communicate her sorrow to the family of the girl, but is quickly rebuffed, another white woman trying to make amends to the blacks. The film was based on Raymond Carver's story "So Much Water So Close To Home," which was used (briefly) in Robert Altman's film "Short Cuts," but Lawrence and his screenwriter Beatrix Christian have given it a larger canvas, concentrating instead on the effect of unacknowledged guilt on the four men and their families. Linney, who is never less than interesting in any film, is fascinating to watch here; her anger at Stewart is undercut by what she won't acknowledge as her own abandonment of the family.
Because there is an Aboriginal family around the murdered girl and the mysterious (to whites) spiritual life surrounding them, Lawrence and Christian have tried to shoehorn a suggestion of the mysterious lives just beyond the white folks, which is more than the film can sustain, but making the clash of cultures a turning point for the film, along with the sense that there is a supernatural element to the landscape, known only to the Aborigines. But they don't give it either the weight it should have nor a place in the plot, the way "Picnic at Hanging Rock" or "The Last Wave" did. So "Jindabyne" remains more a curiosity than a major film, more a reminder than a complete work.