The Aborgine and the girl 30,000 years apart ...together
Just about the most different film you'll ever see
Filmed in its entirety in the Australian wilderness
Nicolas Roeg's Uncut Directorial Masterpiece
The contrast between modern, urban civilization and life in the natural world lies at the heart of Nicolas Roeg's visually dazzling drama Walkabout. In broad outline, the plot might resemble a standard fish-out-of-water tale: two city children become stranded in the Australian outback, and struggle to find their way back to civilization with the help of a friendly aborigine boy. But Roeg and screenwriter Edward Bond are concerned with far more than the average wilderness drama, as a shocking act of violence near the story's beginning makes clear. This is particularly true in regards to the relationship between the white children and the aborigine boy, who ultimately develops a troubled romantic attraction towards the older sister. Obviously intended as a statement on the exploitation of the natural world and native cultures by European civilization, the film nevertheless maintains an evocative vagueness that usually -- but not always -- favors poetry over didacticism. Most importantly, the film's justifiably acclaimed cinematography is likely to sway even those who find fault with the film's narrative and message. The shift between the sterile city images and the truly stunning, beautifully composed Australian landscapes provide the film's single best argument, making the film a vivid and convincing experience.
A teenage schoolgirl (Jenny Agutter) and her much younger brother (Luc Roeg) become stranded in the wilderness after their father (John Meillon) goes berserk. After driving them far into the Australian outback for a picnic, the father suddenly begins shooting at his children. When they run behind rocks for cover, he sets the car on fire and shoots himself in the head. The girl conceals what has happened from her brother. After salvaging what she can the pair head out into the desert.
By the middle of the next day, they are weak, and the boy can barely walk. Discovering a small water hole with a fruiting tree, they spend the day playing, bathing, and resting. Next morning, the water has dried up. They are discovered by an Aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil); although the girl cannot communicate with him, her brother mimes their need for water, and the newcomer cheerfully shows them how to draw it from the drying bed of the oasis. The three travel together, with the Aborigine sharing food he has caught hunting. The boy learns to communicate, using words and sign language.
Despite being lost, the Aborigine boy does not assist the children in returning to civilization. While in the vicinity of a plantation, a white woman walks past the Aboriginal boy, who subsequently ignores her when she speaks to him. She also spots the other children but they do not see her, and they continue on their journey. The children also discover a weather balloon belonging to a nearby research team working in the desert.
The older boy guides the siblings to a deserted farm. He discovers a paved road while collecting sticks in the forest, and excitedly shows the brother. Soon afterward, he hunts down a water buffalo and is wrestling it to the ground when two white hunters nearly run him over in a truck. He watches them shoot several buffalo with a rifle. He returns to the house, catching the girl dressing. He courts her with an intense, silent dance. Although he dances outside all day and into the night until he becomes exhausted, she cannot understand the nature of his dance. In the morning, the brother wakes his sister and tells her their companion is gone. After they wash and dress in their school uniforms, the brother takes her to the Aborigine's body, hanging in a tree. Not fully comprehending death, the boy offers the body his pen-knife. Before leaving, the girl wipes ants from the dead boy's chest. Hiking up the road, the siblings find a nearly deserted mining town, where they are met by a surly white man who tells them of a place they can stay in.
Years later, a businessman arrives at the home of the now grown-up girl; while he relates office gossip, she daydreams, imagining a scene in which she, her brother, and the Aborigine are playing and swimming naked in the deep pool in the outback.
Walkabout fared poorly at the box office in Australia. Critics debated whether it could be considered an Australian film, and whether it was an embrace of or a reaction to the country's cultural and natural context.
The film is an example of Roeg's well-defined directorial style, characterised by strong visual composition from his experience as a cinematographer, combined with extensive cross-cutting and the juxtaposition of events, location, or environments to build his themes. This use of intellectual montage creates symbolism by juxtaposing two shots that are not literally connected. For example, in one scene the Aboriginal boy is seen killing and dismembering a kangaroo, a passage interrupted by several brief clips of a butcher at work in his shop.
The film is noted for its cinematography and is interspersed with numerous images of Australian plant and animal life, along with its varied landscapes. The director often uses those images to emphasise events in the plot and set the emotional tone, most notably during the violent scene involving the rifle hunters. Though many of the events are improbable in a natural setting—in one scene a wombat wanders past the sleeping children in the middle of a desert—they create a backdrop of a populous, varied environment. In Walkabout, an analysis of the film, author Louis Nowra wrote:
"...I was stunned. The images of the Outback were of an almost hallucinogenic intensity. Instead of the desert and bush being infused with a dull monotony, everything seemed acute, shrill, and incandescent. The Outback was beautiful and haunting."
Film critic Edward Guthmann also notes the strong use of exotic natural images, calling them a "chorus of lizards".
Critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the great films." He writes that it contains little moral or emotional judgment of its characters, and ultimately is a portrait of isolation in proximity:
"Is it a parable about noble savages and the crushed spirits of city dwellers? That's what the film's surface suggests, but I think it's about something deeper and more elusive: the mystery of communication."
Commenting on the film's enduring appeal, in 1998 Roeg described the film as:
"…a simple story about life and being alive, not covered with sophistry but addressing the most basic human themes; birth, death, mutability."
At the online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a score of 93% based on 27 critical submissions, with an average rating of 8.2 out of 10 (showing however, as of 31 January 2013, "no consensus", on the site's Tomatometer.) The site's audience poll holds a score of 84% from a total of 7,288 ratings with an average of 3.9 out of 5, indicating that general audiences "liked it."
Release Date: July 5, 1971
Distrib: 20th Century Fox