Watched Apr 23, 2012
Steve Parkes’s review:
After their father has a breakdown, a teenage girl and her younger brother are left stranded in the Australian outback. They eventually meet and receive assistance from an aboriginal boy on his ‘walkabout’ (a rite of passage where he spends some time separated from his tribe).
Walkabout is a fascinating, often misunderstood, beautiful, slightly naive coming of age adventure. Jenny Agutter (most recently seen as a SHIELD council member in The Avengers) gives a strong performance, nicely balancing stoicism and vulnerability. The film seems to suggest mostly a strong element of cultural incommensurability, but also a hint of shared humanity, or at least parallels in, for example, matters confronting those “coming of age”.
This nuanced portrayal is to its credit, but it occasionally fails, and comes across as a bit ANTH 101. For example, in the first meeting between Agutter’s character and the aborigine (David Gulpilil) sees her trying thick-headedly to ask for water: “Water! ... You must understand ‘water’!” she states to the uncomprehending aborigine. Then her brother mimes a drinking action and gets the point across, and the tribesman takes them to a source of water. Agutter’s character wasn’t portrayed as ignorant or dim-witted in most of the film, but we’re supposed to believe here that she thinks he simply must understand “water”, and it wouldn’t occur to her to mime the act of drinking.
Roger Ebert says the film is about “The mystery of communication”, and that’s true to a point. But ham-fisted scenes like this one make it almost feel didactic, rather than mysterious. And some of the stylistic editing just seems pretentious.
But mostly I agree with Ebert. Walkabout is a nuanced film about culture and communication. Occasionally clumsy in juggling its themes, Walkabout is for the most part mysterious, visually strong, and not a simplistic “noble savage = good; modern life = hollow” tale that some think.