Questioning Human Nature


Alexander Pearce was an Irish convict transported to Tasmania by the British judicial system for theft of six pairs of shoes in 1819. He was also, by accusation of the British government, a cannibal.

Directed by Michael James Rowland, "The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce" takes place in 1824 Tasmania, as the incarcerated and condemned Pearce (Ciaran McMenamin, "Sunday") lays pouring out his wretched soul before the priest overseeing his last rites. Father Phillip Connolly (Adrian Dunbar, "The Crying Game") is at once hostile and unsympathetic toward the convict, but hears the man's tale of his weeks-long journey through the inhospitable wilderness of Tasmania. As the yarn unfolds, Connolly comes to view mankind as less a predetermined creature bound by his creator for Heaven or Hell, and more as either beneficiary or victim of the environment in which he lives.

Eight convicts escape the brutal penal colony of Van Diemens Land, but only one survives the escape in the long run. The tale between the first and last part of that story is a sad account of depravity fit only to make one question the nature of the human condition. (A less introspective member of the audience will probably liken it to the gradually shrinking pool of contestants on "American Idol.")

One of the most humbling moments in the film comes when the lone survivor meets a Tasmanian native—the first human the troupe had come across since their escape from prison. There is little to say of the encounter without adding a spoiler, but suffice to say that the meeting says plenty about our attitudes toward the self-perceived superiority of our own culture—as evidenced in Lieutenant Cuthbertson's misplaced summary of Pierce's behavior as "savage."

Rowland's Irish-Australian drama hit big at the European Independent Film Fest, with the short movie taking home Best Non-European Dramatic Feature at the festival's fifth presentation in Paris. Prior to that, the film won an Inside Film Award and an Apra Screen Music Award. It earned them all.

Watch the film and know, as Pearce puts it, that "a full belly is prerequisite of all manner of good." The unstated portion of that line, of course, is that without that full belly, well, things could be different.

The screening of "The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce is Sunday, April 18, at 12:45 p.m.


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