Walkabout (1971)

Director:  Nicholas Roeg
Cast:  Jenny AgutterLuc RoegDavid Gulpilil 
Plot:  Two young children are stranded in the Australian outback and are forced to cope on their own. They meet an Aborigine on "walkabout": a ritualistic separation from his tribe.

Genre:  Drama / Adventure
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  NC16 for some disturbing scenes, brief sexual references and nudity.

“I don't suppose it matters which way we go.”

I imagine the Australian wilderness to be romanticized.  Kangaroos hop around you, the sandy dunes and the vast lands await you, and if you are lucky, you might get to see Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman on a horse, riding into the blissful sunset.  Of course, please blame Baz Luhrmann (Australia, 2008) for that imagery. 

After watching Nicolas Roeg's film, Walkabout, I imagine I wouldn't have lasted a single day in the harshest of conditions.  So kudos to a White British teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and his young brother (Luc Roeg) who somehow managed to make it through the night, in their school uniforms no less.  They have been sadly abandoned by their maniacal and suicidal father,  perhaps fed up with the chronic stress caused by a prolonged urban working life.

Urbanity versus rurality is a major theme in this plotless drama with only three central characters.  The two siblings meet a young Aborigine (David Gulpilil) doing a walkabout, a solitary rite-of-passage journey to become a man.  He aids them and guides them to survive.  In a way, this is also their walkabout. 

Roeg, who also shot the film as a cinematographer, directs the actors in quite extraordinary ways.  The all-round performances are excellent despite the intimidating conditions, and they are comfortable in going completely nude in a few scenes.  One sequence in particular crosscuts between a naked Agutter swimming in a natural lake with Aboriginal families exploring the shell of a burnt out car, reflecting the contrasting curiosities brought about by a seemingly alien environment.

Roeg is British, though Walkabout shouldn't be considered as distinctively British cinema.  It knows no boundaries and no time; it exists as an isolated parable, asking existential, sometimes philosophical, questions to which no answer is available, even from the holy grail of knowledge that is nature and the universe.  Why are we here?  Why does life end up cyclically?  What does it mean... to live?

Walkabout can be tonally jarring, but that can be loosely appreciated as an intended effect by Roeg.  He alternates between using static-ridden radio announcements from a transistor with sharp sounds of nature, all these aurally accompanied by the legendary John Barry's strange and haunting score. 

He also uses an assortment of editing techniques and camera tricks that feel dated now, but can be regarded as fresh and experimental during the early 1970s.  As a result, tonally the film becomes mishmash and potentially frustrating as it is difficult to ascertain the kinds of emotions to feel when more attention is paid to its ‘technical bravura’. 

Some viewers may feel that the film can be too didactic about the consequences of urbanity and the built environment as superseding nature and the natural way of life.  I think so too.  Still, it gets its message across in complex ways, though not particularly the most entertaining of ways. 

Verdict:  Raw and hypnotic, Roeg's rite-of-passage drama can be tonally jarring, but its message gets across in complex ways.


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Anonymous said…
Interesting Review ET!!

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