Bliss (1985): Ray Lawrence’s Controversial Australian Film, Cut due to Incest Scenes, then Restored

Ray Lawrence’s Australian film Bliss, adapted to the screen by him and Peter Carey, author of the novel on which it is based, was one on the most controversial films at the 1985 Cannes Film Fest, where it received its world premiere.

The movie was booed at the press screening (which I had attended), and then suffered from many walk-outs during its public showing.

The two stars, Barry Otto and Lynette Curran, who were better known then for their theater and TV work, give strong performances in this unusual narrative that challenged many conventions.

Despite the cuts and later slew of awards from the Australian Film Institute, Bliss divided critics and was a commercial flop in the U.S. and Australia, failing to recoup its modest budget of A$3.4.  Since then, it has been reevaluated with some critics, claiming that it was ahead of its time and thus misunderstood by viewers.

Harry Joy (Barry Otto), an ad executive goes through a near-death experience after a massive heart attack, caused by his excessive lifestyle. Upon recovery, he reevaluates his life, realizing that his wife Bettina (Lynette Curan) is unfaithful, his dissolute daughter (Gia Varides) trades sex for drugs with his deviant son (Miles Buchanan, and his latest client is a polluter.

Harry tries to reform, abandoning his previous affluent life, until he is forced into to a psychiatric hospital, due to some bizarre incidents.

After smoking marijuana for the first time with a terminally ill friend, his car is crushed by an elephant and is arrested. Fighting for his sanity, Harry flees home and settles in a hotel, where meets a hippie country girl, Honey Barbara (Helen Jones), who work as a prostitute and rug seller to help support her rural community.

Their affair leads to resuming his old ways, and Honey’s rejection of him. Undeterred, Harry pursues her for years, while living alone near her commune, eventually winning her heart with a ‘gift’ of plantings of the type of tree that provides Barbara’s favorite honey.
Producer Anthony Buckley was furious when Australia’s Office of Film and Literature slapped Bliss with a Restricted 18+, which discouraged any distribution.  After protests, the classification was overturned on appeal and the film opened in Sydney,
The director cut the original festival version from 135 minutes to 110, deleting some scenes of incest between the siblings, among others.  This footage was restored in the DVD edition.
Lawrence then turned to TV commercials work, before rebounding with two more respected films, “Lantana” in 2001 and “Jindabyne” in 2006, but he could never sustain a viable filmmaking career.