Saturday, January 12, 2013

#880. Walkabout (1971) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Nicolas Roeg

Starring: Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, Luc Roeg

Tag line: "A boy and girl face the challenge of the world's last frontier. Dangers they had never known before... A people they had never seen before..."

Trivia: In the USA, this film was originally rated R by the MPAA due to nudity, but was reduced to PG on appeal

Shot on location in the Australian Outback, Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout is a study in cultural differences, focusing on the difficulties that arise when two people are unable to communicate with one another.

A teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her young brother (Luc Roeg) accompany their father (John Meillon) on a picnic in the Australian outback. But when dear old dad pulls a gun on them, the children run for cover, only to be left stranded in the middle of nowhere when he torches the car and shoots himself in the head. 

Hopelessly lost, the siblings eventually meet an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who helps them find food and water. Despite the language barrier (the Aborigine doesn't speak English), the girl and her brother tag along with their new friend on his "Walkabout", a rite of passage where young Aborigine males prove their worth by surviving in the great outdoors. 

But will this boy ultimately lead his new friends to safety, or are the children doomed to perish in the cruel Australian wilderness?

In stunning fashion, Walkabout explores the dual nature of the Australian Outback, a place as perilous as it is magnificent. The Aborigine first encounters the girl and her brother at a watering hole, a gorgeous locale smack dab in the middle of a desert. Unfortunately, neither of the two siblings is in much of a position to appreciate the area’s natural beauty. Having spent the day walking in the hot sun, their hopes of finding water at this little oasis are dashed when they discover it has dried up. 

This initial meeting also yields the first instance of the main characters' failure to communicate. Eager for something to drink, the girl asks the Aborigine if he knows where there’s some water. “Water”, she repeats over and over, adding, as she grows exasperated, “you must understand. Anyone can understand that. We want to drink”. Unable to comprehend a world beyond her own, the girl becomes increasingly annoyed when the Aborigine doesn’t grasp her most basic of questions. Fortunately, her brother adapts quickly to the situation, and, motioning to his open mouth, makes a drinking sound, at which point the Aborigine finally understands. 

This clashing of cultures remains a prevalent theme throughout Walkabout, and will result in a tragic set of circumstances. An often beautiful, occasionally harsh cinematic masterpiece, Walkabout is a film destined to stay with you for a long, long time.

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