Walkabout (1971) / Drama-Adventure
MPAA Rated: R for nudity and violence (re-rated PG later, but I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 95 min. (100 min. originally)
Cast: Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg (Lucien John), David Gulpilil
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay: Edward Bond (based on the novel by James Vance Marshall)
Reviewpublished November 2, 2005
A father takes his two children, a teenage girl (Agutter, An American Werewolf in London) and a young boy, out to the Australian desert for a picnic. The father ostensibly attempts to kill them both before taking his own life, forcing the youths to have to try to live out in the outback on their own. Things seem bleak until they run into a young Aborigine that befriends them, showing them how to live off of the land and animals until he can guide them back to their home.
Absorbing at face value, disturbing underneath. Walkabout is a deceptively simple tale about lost children trying to find their way home that slowly grows into a treatise against the continued expansion of industry, the domination of humanity over unbridled nature, and the correlation between the savageries still inherent in so-called civilized society. Shots of animals, nature and the native Aborigines are juxtaposed with the industrialized areas of Australia, neither of them able to coexist in harmony with the other. As the land is changed by the growing nature of urban development, the lives of the Aborigines change over time. Like the children of the story, the white children and Aborigine can exist as friends for a time, but ultimately, the death of the customs and lives of the original Australian settlers is a certainty.
At the same time that it works as a narrative, Walkabout is just as good as a film about nature, languishing on scenes depicting the exotic creatures one might find in the Australian outback. Stunningly photographed by Nicolas Roeg (Don't Look Now, The Witches) himself, who started off his career in movies as a cinematographer, this would be a beautiful film to behold even without words. The shots of nature, while gorgeous, don't always paint a pretty picture. Life is wild and chaotic out in the middle of nowhere, but the message is still clear -- it can still be preferable to the bleakness of modern society.
A perplexing and mysterious allegory that merits analysis, although it still works well as a straightforward story, Walkabout taps into the same rich vein of thought that would become the spark for the mind-blowing Koyaanisqatsi, and similar films that contrast the beauty of nature to the manufactured stone and metal life most of us lead today. It isn't perfect, but when it works, it's brilliant, and a definite recommendation for viewers looking for something a little more challenging than your typical adventure film.
©2005 Vince Leo