Peter Weir’s “The Plumber” (1979) Leaves Uncertain

Peter Weir‘s 1979 film The Plumber appeared back in the halcyon days of 1979, before the beginning of the Reagan presidency but probably around the time the latter decided to announce his run in the dog whistle Dorf of Philadelphia, Mississippi (although there exist reasonable doubts about this claim). Admittedly I use that word, halcyon, too much.

Criterion Collection image advertising The Plumber

The Context

The Plumber was one of Australian Peter Weir’s early films after he made the acclaimed and enigmatic Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), which the author shamefully confesses he has still not yet seen. It was made for television broadcast and preceded many of the films that have burnished Weir’s credentials as a filmmaker, including Gallipolli (1981) [unseen by the author], The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) [seen and appreciated by the author]. The latter are the work that directed Weir to Hollywood where he’d make many other well known features.

The Plumber‘s Plot

The film begins with an image of an imposing I.M. Pei-like modern apartment building. Then we’re confronted by an image of a haunting bushman and a brief discussion of cannibalism between a husband and wife. The photo was taken by her, Jill, as part of her anthropology research. The husband, a doctor whose been doing research on the effects of cannibalism on diets, leaves for work.

Closeup still of the character Jill from The Plumber, 1979
Jill, put off by the plumber

As the husband exits the building elevator, the haunting image of a man’s legs and journeyman bag appears. Next, we find this man confronting our heroine. He’s the building plumber there to check the shower. Been complaints. Have to check it.

But he discovers problems and then, between not infrequently breaking to have conversation with wife, proceeds to deconstruct the bathroom and make it unusable. Only works when the husband has gone to work, and everyone else in the building seems to get along with him. But his interactions with the wife are full of what will be known as microaggressions.

She’s increasingly disturbed and we start to doubt her, given the responses of all surrounding her. And then, she gets her revenge.

Peter Weir is not Peter Greenaway

For whatever reason, I’d been so sure that Peter Weir and Peter Greenaway were the same person. Greenaway is British, so they both have English as their mother tongue, an allegiance to the monarchy …