Walkabout (1971) (R)
There is a lot more to "Walkabout" than what first meets the eye. It starts as a survival tale of a brother and a sister making their way through the bush of Australia, but it transcends into a spiritual journey...enigmatic and moving. So named for the right of passage that every sixteen-year-old boy would have to partake in, "Walkabout" has the stunning Australian imagery that reflects the mood of the characters so perfectly that it borders on works of Terrence Malick.
With "Walkabout", I note the first time I am duly impressed with director Nicolas Roeg, whose other works has been so off-kilter that it was hard to watch and to understand. While not everything within "Walkabout" makes sense to me, the emotions are genuine and that's something that I appreciate (it's also something that Roeg seems to have steered away from with his other films).
The movie begins in urban Australia, where we see an unnamed girl (Jenny Agutter) attending school. She does her singing exercises, she teaches her brother how to swim, etc. We also see her father come home from work while curiously nonsensical music plays.
Not having any backstory on the characters, the movie doesn't hesitate before it drops us in on a weird and predatory situation: the boy and the girl's father have taken them picnicking in the flatlands of the bush. He seems consumed by his work, but not consumed enough that he doesn't try to kill his children. After shooting at them with a gun and setting fire to their car, he points the revolver at himself and takes his own life.
Now trapped in the outback, the girl tries to make it easy for her much younger brother by playing games as they trek across the terrain.
A few days into the voyage and she begins to realize that they aren't going to make it without water. An aboriginal boy stumbles across them and they mutually befriend each other. He helps them get food and they travel with him.
"Walkabout" has no real plot besides the arc of getting home. Even so, that storyline never really reaches completion (which I also like) and leaves us wondering about the mysterious wonders of Australia. Much like Peter Weir's "The Last Wave", "Walkabout" has heavily implied mysticism to the land. Mirages could be ghosts and the way animals react to instances suggests that they too have souls and the power of thought. Certainly, if nothing else, the revere of life is heavy in the movie, even for all the animal deaths that we see so clearly and so evidently not faked.
The largest character in the movie is the aboriginal boy (David Gulpili) whose entire part consists of one English word: "water".
I've read a few theories that "Walkabout" is secretly about the anti-Eden story. Meaning that every action is the opposite (and yet still somewhat true) action of Adam and Eve. But fancy theories aside, "Walkabout" exists on its own without critical thought. There are moments of sexual awakenings, when we see the girl start to lose herself from the confines of the urban world. There are also moments in which the blood-lust of the 'white man' gets to be so rampant that it causes sanities to be lost.
"Walkabout" seems to be about the lasting moments of our childhood that haunt us for years after. It's about a journey towards some unattainable truth, some undefinable greatness. Maybe it's the quest for peace and tranquility, though I think even condensing the emotions into a word does a disservice to the movie.
"Walkabout" simply is...and that's good enough for me.
Posted by Micah Jones