22 March 2023

Glimmer of hope through memories of horror

The cast of Bali 2002. Picture: Stan

By Wendy Knowlton 

21 October 2022

12 October marked 20 years since bombs ripped through Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club in Bali, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians. While the choice to show confronting footage of the explosions and the perpetrators rocked many who travelled to the Bali memorial, any service involved decisions for survivors or the families of victims – to remember or to move on, to share stories or to block pain, to acknowledge suffering or to focus on healing and resilience. Stan’s four-part mini-series Bali chooses many paths, perhaps unsure of what its focus should be. The result is an uneven but ultimately moving commemoration of the horror and heroism that occurred.  

The moment of impact is revisited to hypnotic and shocking effect as the stories of those caught up in the tragedy are explored. Tourists Nicole (Elizabeth Cullen) and Natalie (Sophia Forrest) dance and drink before the screen explodes into flames. British newlywed Polly Miller (Claudia Jesse) sees her husband blown backwards in a wall of flame that engulfs surfer Jono (William Lodder) and footballer Jason McCartney (Sean Keenan). 

The immediate aftermath is chillingly shown. Swirling camerawork emphasises the chaos and confusion where survival depends on the courage of a stranger, or the determination of a friend such as Natalie in her efforts to save Nicole. There is an overwhelming need for swift medical intervention in a place where resources are scarce. Infection for burn victims soon becomes as much the enemy as initial injuries. This brings Dr Fiona Wood (Rachel Griffiths) and her radical spray on skin into the story, as the injured are flown to various Australian hospitals and treatment begins. In what could have been a series in itself, Wood faces scepticism from those who feel her innovation is untested or that its use is self-serving, despite the promising results. 

The investigation into the bombing creates further tension when Australian police attempt to offer forensic and investigative knowledge without offending local authorities. Richard Roxburgh is impressive as Commander Graham Ashton. Proficient in Indonesian, he promotes cooperation rather than conflict and is canny enough to assess the political motivations and failures of those back in Australia clearly.  

The strands of the series come together in the final episode when those responsible have been caught, killed or put on trial, and victims are left to face the future. For Polly, survivor guilt makes it clear this will never be easy. For Nicole, her resistance to resuming the life she had been going to have must be overcome. But there is a sense of people wresting back some control. McCarthy makes a return to football, a triumphant symbol of his refusal to succumb. Ni-Luh gives her husband a beautiful send-off and others choose caring careers that reflect what they went through. There may be no perfect way of moving forward after such tragedy, but ultimately this series offers up the possibility of hope, and some good coming out of such pain.  

Bali is available on Stan. 

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