Walkabout

Walkabout

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Nicolas Roeg's extraordinary "Walkabout" shows the beauty, brutality, and sometimes banality of nature. It also gives audiences a no-holds-barred view of animal and insect life - and death - in the desolate Australian outback.

The film starts off with a bang - literally - as a gunshot goes off and a car explodes. The father (John Meillon) of a 14-year-old girl (Jenny Agutter, "The Railway Children") and a 6-year-old boy (Luc Roeg, the director's son) is dead by suicide after his unthinkable attempt to kill them is unsuccessful.

Now two scared, sheltered, ill-equipped kids in posh school uniforms are left to fend for themselves in an unforgiving desert environment.

What kind of father would do what he did? More importantly, why did he do it? "Walkabout" wisely never answers these questions.

The soundtrack mainly consists of radio broadcasts and sounds from everyday objects. This combination somehow lends an ominous sense of the dread to these unimaginable proceedings.

"Walkabout" opens with this disturbing disclaimer: In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT. This is the story of a "WALKABOUT".

The sister tries to make the situation a fun game for her little brother at first, but it isn't long before reality sets in. The sheer beauty of the outback serves as a nice contrast to the coarse cruelty that's necessary for living off the land. Despite director Roeg's obvious dim view of humanity, their situation never feels entirely hopeless.

Indeed, as the opening text foreshadows, their saving grace soon comes in the form of a 16-year-old "Aborigine man-child" (David Gulpilil) on walkabout. He speaks no English, so communication is a challenge at first. As "simple" as he may seem on the surface, it is his wisdom and knowledge that ensures their survival.

But they come from completely different worlds, and that tragically never changes no matter how well they seem to get along in the moment.

The ending is a bittersweet punch to the gut. The girl, who is now all grown-up and married with kids of her own, fondly and nostalgically reminisces about the time her father killed himself and tried to kill her and her brother, followed by wistful images of her and her brother wading nakedly and idyllically in a lake with an aboriginal boy who spoke no English like three innocent young children on vacation. The ugliness and trauma of what really happened seems to have been replaced in her mind by a romanticized, fantasized version of the "great adventure" they once embarked on.

Psychological coping mechanism or wealthy western oblivion?

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