I fucking love treasure hunts. I never get tired of them. They even a magazine: Lost Treasure. Although, it actually rarely includes real treasure hunts, and mostly features pudgy old men and metal detector porn, button collections and the occasional long essay about the best places to find dropped coins in off-season campgrounds.
But legends of lost treasures are the great equalizer, the great hope for those of us who aren’t smart enough to make smartphone apps or asshole enough to rip people off. Finding a treasure is amoral and instant: your financial worries disappear without anyone getting hurt or you ever having to pretend you’re a Nigerian prince. And the legends combine wealth with adventure, like a winning lottery ticket with a great backstory.
The thing is this: for every true treasure story there are probably a million apocryphal ones. And the real treasures were likely found long ago. And when treasure is found in stories, it is almost always squandered or lost. Yet, it’s hard to be realistic, to give up hope, when it’s so damn easy to wish and hope that a fortune is waiting out there for you. The prospect of instant wealth is as easy to believe in as the notion that you can eat three platters of Long John Silver’s popcorn shrimp and make it to the toilet before you shit yourself. You’ve failed every time, yet you can’t resist the offer the next time your friends make it.
I love treasure hunt stories so much I’ve been writing one. It’s either brilliant or a massive pile of shit; I’ll be the last person to know. My adoration of the genre is why I checked out Lasseter’s Bones, a modest Australian documentary about the legend of a gold reef worth billions waiting for some lucky soul in the most remote parts of the Central Australian desert. As the Harold Lasseter’s story goes, he stumbled across it over 100 years ago, and then a couple decades later secured funding to bring a crew back to retrieve it. It was an arduous journey across deadly, hot desert to Buttfuck, Nowhere, and Lasseter’s guidance was so vague that the crew abandoned him. He died out there, but he left behind a diary with some details of where to look for the treasure. Something about three hills that looked like women in sun bonnets, and another mound that looked like a Quaker’s hat.
People have been looking for the Lasseter’s Reef ever since, but nobody’s ever found it, if it even exists. So, it should be no surprise that it isn’t found in this movie. That leads to the first problem with this movie: I’m not sure what it’s trying to do.
Lasseter’s Bones gives us the legend, including both sides of the argument: that Harold did find gold; and that he was an untrustworthy con man or nutjob. It rehashes what you can read on Wikipedia or in several books on the subject. In fact, Australian literature consists almost exclusively of books about Lasseter and how to avoid being killed the continent’s deadly animals.
Lasseter’s Bones could be about something bigger than a legend that won’t get sorted out in 100 minutes. It could be about why people still believe in the gold, and how it’s fucked up so many lives. But it isn’t. Instead, the movie joins the hunt, and the movie’s maker Luke Walker has been seduced into thinking what every God damn treasure-hunting nitwit does: he hopes he’ll get luckier than everyone else.
The movie’s most interesting character is Lasseter’s son Bob, now a very old man, who barely knew his father and yet has spent his entire life chasing the legend, still riding way out into the bush, risking his life and looking for those sun bonnets, without success. Why?
Walker should have gone into this movie knowing he wouldn’t find gold, and spent his time digging into the mind of this old man who frittered away decades. Bob says he doesn’t care about wealth so much as he does proving his father was right. But at what point should a son give up? What sort of father deserves that devotion? At what point should he stop looking to the past and start looking to the future? When would a son accept that maybe his father was a damn crook, or an incompetent boob, and it’s not his problem to correct?
Instead, Lasseter’s Bones is not about any person. It’s about a ghost that Walker chases into the desert and through second- and third-hand stories. Ancient, crumbling papers and phone calls with old relatives of long-dead acquaintances of Lasseter. Bob should be the spine that the stories that the ribs hang from, but Walker abandons him a little over halfway through to chase a different, and equally fruitless, lead. The documentary’s one interesting person is abandoned for the sake of a treasure hunt that ends just like the rest of them.
In the end, seeing Lasseter’s Bones was itself a treasure hunt. I went in hoping to strike it rich, to find something most people couldn’t while they sat in the multiplex watching men in their underwear wrestle among CGI ruins. I wanted to find a story I could share, a discovery I could reveal to you all. Yet, like with almost all these quests, I left empty-handed. Doesn’t mean I won’t try again, though. Two Fingers for Lasseter’s Bones.