Nicolas Roeg's mystical masterpiece chronicles the physical, spiritual, and emotional journey of a sister and brother abandoned in the harsh Australian outback. Joining an Aborigine boy on his walkabout-a tribal initiation... more » into manhood-these modern children pass from innocence into experience as they are thrust from the comforts of civilization into the savagery of the natural world.« less
"A very unusual film for its time, Walkabout combines many themes in what is ostensibly a tale of survival in the Australian outback. I suppose it was a bit too racy for American audiences as Roeg focuses lovingly on a young nubile Jenny Augutter but that would be missing the point of this movie which contrasts the sterile life of a young British girl and boy with an Aborigine man-child.The film depicts the initial bleakness of the Australian desert which the two children find themselves thrust into after the father mysteriously chooses to commit suicide, but eventually shows the immense diversity of the outback as the young Aborigine leads the lost children back to civilization. Roeg uses a variety of cinematic techniques to paste together his poetic vision, ultimately developing the sexual tension between Agutter and the Aborigine, culminating in a fateful courting ritual which Agutter appears oblivious too. However, the star of the movie is the little boy, Luc Roeg, who forms a very special bond with the Aborigine.The film may be too much to handle for small children, but it is ideal for teenagers, as it will give them a very different experience from the run-of-the-mill teen movies that proliferate in the video stores. Don't fret over the R rating, as the nudity is fleeting and treated in a very respectful way. In Britain, the rating is 12 for young teenagers."
Thank you again, Criterion
Marc A. Coignard | Denver, CO United States | 08/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In Gus Van Sant's Elephant, we follow several teenagers around for half a day, with little or no dialogue, and with nothing to connect us to the characters. We watch a father drive his kid to school, drunk. We watch three girls vomit in the bathroom after eating lunch. We watch two teenagers shoot up the school, ala Columbine, all without any given reason. That film won the Golden Palm and Best Director awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Although I was not a fan of the film at all, in fact I was disgusted by it, I have learned to understand why Van Sant chose to shoot his film the way he did; little or not plot, and no back story for the characters, and little audience interaction with the characters.
Walkabout is somewhat similar to the style that Van Sant used in Elephant, and reportadley also in his films Gerry and Last Days, but it was done over 30 years prior. Its a beautiful film, told quite simply, over the course of an unkwown number of days. We get to know the characters, but not through back story, or by seeing them in their daily lives. The only thing we know about either one of them (the 14 year old girl and her six or seven year old brother) is that they are English living in Australia, and both attend prep-school...and even this is an assumption based on their language and uniforms, not on anything the film really tells us.
The story, as told in every review, is about how the two are mystreriously brought to the outback by their father, who then tries to kill them, and then kills himself. They are close to death as they wander through the desert, until a young Aborigine boy of 16 sees them and essentially rescues them.
One reviewer complains that nothing happens. I disagree, plenty happens. Its random, as is nature, and nature is where these characters exist in this film. Not alot is explained to us, nor do I think we are supposed to figure alot out. We are supposed to watch, and see things as the characters see them. I loved the way the film juxtapozed the Aborigine with the civilized world. There is a harsh, yet amazing scene, where the Aborigine has killed a kangaroo and is cutting it up. The scene is intercut with scenes of a butcher hacking up meat in his butcher shop. Although it seems random at first, when viewed in the rest of the film, it fits in perfectly in the movie's method of comparing the similarites, despite the obvious differences, between the two cultures.
As Roger Ebert pointed out in his The Great Movies II, communication is also a major subject of study in this film--meaning, there hardly is any. The boy is somehow able to get through to the Aborigine, but the girl maintains her distance, probably by choice. She was brought up upper-class, and no doubt that is the lifestyle she enjoys. The Aborigine is no better. He speaks his language throughout the film, as if the two English could understand him. It doens't matter to him that they can't. Neither side is innocent of close-mindedness in this respect.
There is also a certain sexual under-tone in this film. Some reviewers regarded the nudity as non-sexual. For the most part, I'd agree. However, the scene that was orignally cut from this film and restored in the lated 90s, is highly sexual. While the Aborigine boy is out hunting, displaying his brutish masculinity, the girl is swimming naked in an oasis. The scene is not sexual as most American audiences know it. There is never a loving embrace between the two, and it hardly seems that she is at all attracted to him. Also, she does not watch him hunt. Yet to deny the sexual urges of either character throughout the film, displayed mostly in this scene (there is some evidence of it scattered througout, also) would mean that you've put up blinders. True, no sex occurs, but the girls beautiful body is fully displayed at the same time as the young-man's raw masculitnity. This is contrast to the nudity at the films very end, which is playful, but not in the least bit sexual. Its a fine line, and the film's director has walked in well, without losing his balance.
This was a beautiful film, and I'd love to see it again. I urge the viewer not to expect much on story. There is a plot--the white kids want to get home and the Aborigine helps them find it--but that is not the key focus. The plot is the means to an end. That end being a study of cultural differences, done in a very intellegent, patient, and much more interesting way than I've ever seen. "
This movie makes us feel the loss of Eden again.
marcvdp | 05/27/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very "artsy" movie about a young woman and her little brother who are orphaned in the Australian Outback by their father, who has lost his mind. They are rescued by an Aborigine on his walkabout. It is when they leave the idyllic setting and encounter civilization again that tragedy strikes. The aborigine, who is a mystic, can't communicate with the woman, who is a rationalist (and an unconscious snob). I admire the movie for not overly sentimentalizing the case- there are flies in Eden, and they eat lizards and kangaroo tails burned in a fire. But at the same time, without getting preachy, Roeg shows us how alienated from nature we are in civilization. The movie has a deliberate pace, so it's best to approach it with a patient mind. I don't think there's a wasted second in it, but it is totally unlike the MTV-influenced movies coming out today. It's a beautiful, strange film. END"
marcvdp | Trumbull, CT United States | 01/01/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For some reasons I had reservations about seeing this film when I first heard about it; maybe because what I heard and the advertising I saw didn't begin to hint at its depth. Ostensibly its the story of two WASPs who get stranded in the Australian outback and meet an aborigine boy who helps them to surive their journey back to civilization. Most noticeably, for me, the movie criticizes the spiritual emptiness of civilized society and lets the viewer glimpse at some of uncharted territory's secret beauty. The movie works fine on this level. But its brilliance lies in how many different levels it does work, and its subtlety.It is a tragic story of two people who fail to communicate. The blindess of the girl (presented in quite a harsh light, and a symbolic big slap in the face to whitey now that I rethink it) despite huge language and cultural differences is inept or unwilling to understand the aborigine boy's perspective. Indeed she is deeply rooted in Anglo-Saxon values -- only the young boy, her companion, is able to break down the barrier and communicate simple ideas. There are points in the film that expose sexual tension as brilliantly and as subtley as I have ever seen. It is vastly important that the boy is not dramatized or stylized in any way, he seems really to have been picked out of the outback and cast directly in the movie. His behavior should seem at least somewhat bewildering to the audience, it was to me, particularly in the haunting mating dance scene. The girl rejects him out of a lack of understanding and fear, and he sheds tears of failure. Was sexual consumation a part of his walkabout or did he fall deeply for this girl. What are the cues to suggest the latter? I'd have to watch the movie again.Walkabout is delicate and complex but doesn't spoil itself by becoming overambitious. There are many, many internal psychological and emotional aspects of the two children that remain rightfully unexplored. Suffice to say being shot at by your dad and stranded in the wilderness might create some wrenching immediate -- nevermind longterm -- consequences. The film could easily have veered off into myriad branches and lost track of itself. Roeg decides to focus on particular elements and does so meticulously and with grace. And for the film's obvious disdain for civilized society, it doesn't necessarily suggest that the boy has an easier or more satisfying life. It merely presents a different angle -- though that angle is shot in breathtaking, but unsentimental, beauty. There is no sap in this film; the score is moving but does not grab forcefully at one's heartstrings. The shots of the outback are gorgeous, but they do not imply any false notions of peace in nature. And for these very reasons, the film, I would imagine, would be great at exposing both beauty and the harsh face of reality to kids despite all the complexity that wouldn't be understood."
A poignant movie, very close to being a classic
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 11/15/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's unsettling to find that something you've treasured, now seen or met again, leaves you feeling a little flat. Did you change for the worse...have you become jaded...less open about feeling emotion? Or perhaps what you liked so much then simply isn't the wonder you thought it was.
A young girl (Jenny Agutter), 14, and her brother (billed as Lucien John, who actually was Nicolas Roeg's son, Luc) about 7, are driven far into the Australian outback by their father for a picnic. We've seen the family...the children at school, the mother preparing food while she smokes and looks distracted, the daughter swimming in the pool of their expensive apartment building, the father a businessman who stares out the window at her. For the picnic, the mother has stayed at home. The father is preoccupied in the car. He stops and the daughter lays out the food while her brother runs about among rocks. A shot rings out and the bullet hits the rocks by the boy. The father is firing. The daughter runs to her brother and scoops him up to hide. He shoots at them several more times, then demands that they come back so that they can return home. After a pause the father pours gasoline on the car, ignites it and shoots himself. The children are stranded in the middle of scrub desert with only what little food they can carry. They start walking. They eventually find some muddy water and fruit, but in the morning the water has disappeared and the fruit has all been eaten by birds. And they meet a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who is doing walkabout, the months' long initiation to manhood where he must survive, or not survive, by himself.
The heart of the story is how he helps them survive, how he looks after them, how sexual feelings arise, how the girl is shaped by her conventional attitudes and is unaware of the boy except as someone who will take them back to civilization, how the boy is shaped by his tribal rituals and has no other way to express himself. The climax of the boy's feelings and his attempt to express them is poignant and sad.
The film, however, is punctuated at the beginning and end and occasionally throughout with shots of civilized life which appear to make civilization less appealing than the primitive and direct life the boy brings to the girl and her brother. Is butchering to bring meat to the supermarket really any different than butchering a kangaroo or a lizard? Doesn't the treatment of Aborigines as children compare unfavorably with the resourcefulness and cheerfulness of the boy? Isn't killing for food better than using high-powered rifles to kill animals for sport? The movie is oblique enough so that these "civilized" moments don't overpower the basic story, but they are still there. Viewing the film now, they seemed unnecessary intrusions into what remains a very strong and affecting story of two young people utterly unable to communicate because of their own conventions.
The movie is beautifully photographed. Two sequences stand out for me. In one, after days in the desert and scrub, the three find themselves walking on through a forest of eucalyptus trees, palms and green scrub. The little brother is trotting along with the young man telling him a long and involved story about a boy on a ladder. Not a word is understood but they both enjoy the experience. The other sequence is in an abandoned, ruined farm house. The young man has painted himself and is dancing what appears to be a ritual of declaration to the girl. He can't express himself any other way and she can only show that she is frightened. He dances until he is exhausted. In the morning she and her brother find him in a resolution that is quite sad.
This is on balance a wonderful movie that, for me, hasn't aged as well as I thought it would. In particular, John Barry's film score seems now to be far too lush and intrusive. Concentrate on the story of the two young people, however, and you won't be disappointed. It's a film well worth having. The Criterion DVD picture looks just fine. There is an audio commentary, which I didn't listen to, by Roeg and Agutter."