We Don’t Need a Map

Symbols are such strange, odd things- nothing more than a squiggle or a doodle, they nevertheless hold sway over the human beings who believe in them. Be it a flag or an icon, symbols trigger emotions, start wars, rally people to a cause. We Westerners living on the chunk of dirt called America don’t think about the symbols of other countries until they affect our own: the Swastika, of course, was co-opted from a deep symbol of spiritual purity to a symbol of terror, one which even today is so powerful, many people still get upset when they see it.

But there are other symbols, just as important, with a story waiting to be told. Warwick Thornton’s We Don’t Need a Map is all about the Southern Cross- a clump of five stars in the night sky that have become a powerful symbol to many people for many different reasons. The Southern Cross is right there on the Australian flag, and Thornton gives us a brief, punk rock history lesson of England and its relationship with that symbol. These little historical anecdotes are peppered throughout the film, illustrated by wiseassy puppeteering to bring some humor into an otherwise pretty somber subject.

Thornton’s irreverent DIY filmmaking style, however, is more than just for fun. He is, himself, Aboriginal by lineage, and his contempt for what colonial England has done to his people is always present. But he tackles the subject with wit and grace, and gives a good chunk of screen time to Aborigonal accounts of the Southern Cross- what those stars mean to them, ancient creation tales of their people, and more. Armed with his camera, Thornton connects the dots- from ancient ritual body markings to modern tattoo parlors; our many connections to the past are illustrated, literally, in this film.

The most shocking part of the story (to those of us ignorant of Australian society) comes with the discovery that the Southern Cross has become a right-wing symbol of national pride- unfortunately, “national” being a stand-in for White Supremacy and the need to identify with the glory days of something inherently racist. That the Southern Cross- a timeless companion to human civilization since the dawn of humanity- is now in the same camp as the Confederate Flag tells you something about the times we live in. Warwick Thornton’s trip through this symbol is both zany and dead serious, reminding us how little we’ve really evolved after so long.


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