Scott Morrison has pointed to a forgettable Nicolas Cage movie about cavemen to explain his hopes for reopening Australia, urging the nation to “get out there and live in it” once COVID vaccination targets are reached.
It’s the Prime Minister’s latest attempt to hold together a fracturing agreement on Doherty Institute modelling that sets 80 per cent vaccine targets for ending lockdowns, as premiers begin to push back on the plan they signed up to.
Ordinary Australians might again be wondering when families can be reunited and border rules relaxed. But Mr Morrison’s repeated references on Tuesday to The Croods – a 2013 Dreamworks film about cavemen – has left some scratching their heads.
“It’s like that movie The Croods,” he told Nine’s Today show.
“Some wanted to stay in the cave, and that young girl, she wanted to go out and live again and deal with the challenges of living in a different world.”
The film – also starring Emma Stone, Ryan Renolds and Cloris Leachman – follows a prehistoric ‘cave family’ who shelter inside caves to avoid natural disasters.
“A prehistoric caveman’s position as a ‘leader of the hunt’ is threatened by the arrival of a genius who comes up with revolutionary new inventions as they trek through a dangerous but exotic land in search of a new home,” the Wikipedia entry for The Croods states.
The film tracks the family eventually deciding to leave their cave because they have “learned to adapt to living outside” and “don’t want to survive, they want to live”.
Mr Morrison made an identical reference in a speech to the Coalition partyroom meeting on Tuesday in Canberra, telling colleagues he’d recently watched the film with his young daughters.
“COVID is a new, different world, and we need to get out there and live in it. We can’t stay in the cave and we can get out of it safely. That’s what the plan does,” the PM told Today.
Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler, quipped that “all Australians desperately want to come out of the cave … but Scott Morrison should take some responsibility for having us in the cave in the first place”.
Greens leader Adam Bandt, calling again for children to be vaccinated, claimed “Scott Morrison’s plan will have kids leaving the cave and going straight to the ICU”.
It followed, as The New Daily noted, Mr Morrison using the geological metaphor on Monday to tell Australians the nation could not “stay in the cave forever”.
It echoed his much-maligned pronouncement from the pandemic’s early days in mid-2020, when he called for Australians to come out from “under the Doona” of COVID rules.
“There’ll be a bit of noise for now. Well, I believe we’ll get there,” Mr Morrison said on Tuesday.
“Any state and territory that thinks that somehow they can protect themselves from COVID with the Delta strain forever, that's just absurd.”@ScottMorrisonMP is on a collision course with Premiers over when the country can re-open. #9Today pic.twitter.com/Fn5piAQWLL
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) August 23, 2021
He heaped more pressure on premiers to stick to the targets of 70 and 80 per cent, following wavering from the Labor governments in Queensland and Western Australia. Both premiers have reserved their rights to apply lockdowns or border closures even beyond the phase C reopening target.
Mr Morrison and his government have pushed back on that, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warning the Commonwealth might not stump up as much cash for lockdown payments in future.
“It’s a deal with the Australian people,” Mr Morrison said of the reopening roadmap.
“Seven and eight out of 10 Australians would have made it very clear that they want to move forward.”
The PM said it was absurd for any state to think “they can protect themselves from COVID with the Delta strain forever”, saying the virus could not be kept out indefinitely.
But while The Croods might play to parents forced to watch endless repeats of their youngsters’ favourite movies, one could argue there are deeper levels. The film has been interpreted by some viewers as a riff on ‘Plato’s cave’, the famous philosophical allegory exploring knowledge, freedom and reality.
Plato’s cave imagines a group of people imprisoned deep underground, watching their captors casting shadow puppets on cave walls. Knowing no other existence and having been kept inside the cave for years, the prisoners would think the shadow puppets are reality, not realising there are more people and a real world outside.
It’s not until a prisoner is freed and ventures outside, that he realises he has lived a sheltered existence that denied him basic experiences. The allegory also explores how the freed prisoner would need to adjust his thinking, and how those left behind in the cave would react when told about the outside world.
Mr Morrison has repeatedly said this week that Australians must “adjust their mindset” about virus case numbers, and instead focus on hospitalisations and deaths. Indeed, the PM wrote a rare opinion piece in the News Corp newspapers at the weekend, urging Australians to “shift focus”.
It included Mr Morrison saying there was “light at the end of the tunnel”, and that it was “always darkest before the dawn”.
Lump that together with Tuesday’s crude Croods reference, and there’s a pattern emerging in the PM’s new rhetoric.
With talk of an election late this year, which – on current trends – would coincide with Australia reaching those 70 and 80 per cent goals, it’s important to keep one eye on the political calculus too.
As Mr Morrison noted optimistically to the Coalition party room, The Croods had a sequel. Its title? A New Age.
But perhaps he should also take into account the tagline on the film’s theatrical poster: “The future ain’t what it used to be”.