The Castle

The Castle, immensely popular when it was released during 1997 in Australia, is designed as a comedy about a situation more serious than the one depicted, and our laughter at the satire quickly diminishes as the plot thickens. Good-natured working-class tow truck operator Darryl Kerrigan (played by Michael Caton) has built a house, with many additions (including a fake chimney), on a toxic landfill at 3 High View Crescent, adjacent to Melbourne International Airport. He and his wife Sal (played by Anne Tenney) have a family of four, worked hard, and lived an upright life in a small neighborhood under the shadow of frequent take-offs and landings, which along with the presence of towering electric lines nearby give Darryl an opportunity to celebrate the triumph of twentieth century technology. One day a government assessor arrives to determine the value of Darryl’s home. It seems that the airport, after going through various governmental channels to expand, has hired contractors to bulldoze his home, which Darryl calls his “castle.” Darryl refuses to move. The airport authority tries monetary incentives and physical threats, but to no avail. Darryl wants to keep his home and realizes—this is clearly the paradigm of the film—that his plight is similar to that of Australia’s aborigines, who are currently fighting to regain not only their land but their culture. Efforts to save the house from the wrecking crew inevitably lead to court, but Darryl cannot afford a competent lawyer, and he is unable to provide a single reason why he should not capitulate to the airport authority other than the platitude that his home is his “castle.” Accordingly, Darryl loses, though by chance during the court’s recess he meets in the hallway (though a meeting in adjacent urinals might be more appropriate) Lawrence Hammill (played by Charles “Bud” Tingwell), a distinguished Australian lawyer, who soon volunteers to handle a pro bono appeal of Darryl’s case to the High Court of Australia. This time the case is won, with Hammill citing in his summation such Darryl’s rhetoric about a house as a home with memories that cannot be fairly taken or adequately compensated. Of course, the government’s right to eminent domain would never have been challenged successfully in any American or Australian court, and the incompetent lawyer who first defends Darryl would have been disbarred, but that is the most enjoyable part of the film. Produced on a shoestring (the hero is named Kerrigan because an actual company named Kerrigan supplied tow trucks as props), directed by Rob Sitch with a two-take maximum in eleven days (before the money ran out to feed the cast and crew), and released in the United States in May 1999 after a success at Sundance, The Castle manifestly tells us that government actions tend to favor the wealthy, disregard the poor, and courts dispense “justice” according to the same formula; but the film also says that there are well-meaning learned persons who are willing to help the unfortunate, in Australia at least. The portrayal of the little guy versus the system, a formula associated with Frank Capra, is the superficial theme of The Castle. The deeper meaning is that Australians should correct the dishonor done to its aboriginal peoples, but the message will unfortunately be lost on Americans who are too busy laughing at the satire to realize that similar injustices await redress in the United States. MH

Scroll to Top