Walkaboutrecommended viewing

I'm in a desert, baby
★★★★
Released: 
1971
Director: 
Nicolas Roeg
Starring: 
Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gulpilil
The Setup: 
Girl and boy are guided through teh Austrailian outback by an aborigine.
Discussion: 

My friend and I watched this about a month or so ago, but it was only yesterday that I found my notes in my bag and said “Oh shit! I never wrote about Walkabout!” Ideally I like to write about a movie I’ve seen on the following day, while it’s still fresh in my mind and I can fill in all the gaps between the notes I chose to make. Luckily, however, this film is so memorable as a whole that I think I can piece it together fairly well.

We open with a title that informs us that when an aborigine reaches 16 he or she goes out into the wilderness for spell as a ritual of adulthood, and that this is called a Walkabout. For the first few minutes, we contrast the world of the city with the empty world of the outback, with a brick wall moving out of the way often the device of transition. During this sequence we see the mother and father of adolescent girl and young boy, who are not given names, played by Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg [the director's son], in the kitchen of their high-rise apartment building. We have additional juxtapositions such as a comparison between the buzzing of a fly and the buzzing the boy makes as he plays with a model airplane. So city vs. nature.

The father takes the kids in the car and stops in the middle of the outback. He tells them to go play, then starts shooting at them! Then he blows up the car and kills himself, leaving the kids alone in the middle of the desert [thanks, Dad!]. We never find out what was bothering the father so much.

So the kids spend the night in the desert and walk during the day. Now, my friend and I were sure that this was directed by the same person who did Picnic at Hanging Rock, and they are so similar in style, tone and location that we made it all the way to the end of the movie [and, to be honest, into the next day] before we realized that this is directed by a wholly different guy! This movie is by Nicholas Roeg, famous for The Man Who Fell To Earth, among other things, and Picnic was directed by Peter Weir, who went on to make Dead Poet’s Society, Master and Commander, and other things. But like I said, very, very much alike, especially in the high degree of symbolism afforded to certain natural objects and the slow dreamy vibe of high significance that suffuses everything. Which of course is not to mention that they’re both about kids lost in rural Australia.

So they find this oasis, with trees filled with snakes. The oasis is dried up in the morning, and they have to move on. At one point the sleeping girl is passed by this ADORABLE little animal that looks something like a cross between Stitch and a teddy bear, but is alive. WHAT was that thing? Is that a bush baby? Anyway, by this time in the movie one could not have failed to notice the stunning photography presented throughout.

SPOILERS > > >
Soon they meet an aborigine, who stays with them and guides them and procures food. At certain points we note that the girl is sort of turned on by him. He is going to take them back to civilization. Toward the end they encounter various people, and at one point the girl realizes that there is a nearby road where they might come across a truck to give them a ride, and that the aborigine hasn’t told her. That night the aborigine paints himself up and performs a strange dance in front of her, which she finds odd. The next morning she finds that he has hung himself—and doesn’t seem very phased at all. The leading interpretation is that this was a courtship ritual, and she didn’t understand it and unknowingly rejected him [not that she would have accepted…], and thus he killed himself. Soon after the kids return to civilization, and we see the girl years later, as a wife, in an apartment kitchen almost exactly like the one we saw her mother in at the beginning.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was fascinating throughout. I think we’re supposed to understand that this is the girl's walkabout, her time in the wilderness in which she matures and returns as an adult, in a sense. Surprisingly, when I later watched The Blue Lagoon, I realized that this movie was one of that film’s primary influences, mainly as a model of how to step back and just let the experience of these abandoned children unfold. Jenny Agutter, who many will recall from the later Logan’s Run, is stunningly gorgeous here and, if you only know her from Logan’s Run, you may be surprised to learn that she can act. The photography throughout is gorgeous, and the whole thing retains a moody, dreamlike vibe that helps us feel the dislocation of her experience. This movie is elliptical and doesn’t drive home a strong main point, but it is stronger for that and stays in one’s mind like a particularly vivid, meaningful dream.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, it is a wholly pleasant and interesting experience.

RELATED MOVIES:
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is by a different director, but is so similar in photography, mood, tone and subject matter that it wasn’t until someone told me that I realized that they weren’t made by the same person.
THE BLUE LAGOON is sort of a popularized version of this film, with more of an emphasis on romance.