Nicolas Roeg in 1971 - until it was already pretty late, and I have to get up all sorts of early tomorrow. I wish I could give this movie some more time and attention, because it deserves it. My dad likes this movie, so I bought him the Criterion a while ago - I hope that I can watch it again soon, so I have some more time to think about it.
It's a really wonderful film, totally pessimistic and sad, but so great. It's almost hallucinatory, because the passage of time is never clearly defined. It's almost never clear is anything is really happening, because it all feels a bit off at times (to me, at least), but you never really have a reason to question the films reality, nevertheless. I felt sort of weird after I watched this movie. I felt a sort of acceptance, like, "I understand what this movie is saying, and it's unpleasant but it makes sense," and but also a discomfort that I couldn't pin down. I was moved and deeply saddened by parts of the film, but I had this lingering disturbing feeling, because there was something very true about this film. Despite any strangeness in the look and feel of the film, the depressing message is honest, and the way the story played out felt real and honest as well. I think that's why it's sticking with me and lingering, because it's harder to let go of something that is so real.
The story is simple - a boy and a girl are stranded in the wilderness. They went out to a picnic with their father, but he suddenly started shooting at them. They were able to hide, and he turned the gun on himself and lit his car on fire. The kids are left alone, with only the meager food from the picnic and a radio. They both are pretty prim and proper English kids, and quickly become exhausted and sunburned after staggering around on their own. They eventually meet up with an Aborigine boy (from here on out - the older boy) on a walkabout. They can't communicate, but somehow, the young boy and the older boy work out a sort of sign language. The girl never makes an attempt, really, other than speaking English. The older boy is able to help them find water and food, and takes them to shelter. They survive only because of him.
Stop here if you haven't seen the film, and you want to. Please don't ruin it for yourself! But I want so badly to talk a little about how I feel about the film, and I can't do it without spoiling the end. So here's your final warning.
At the end of the movie, the courtship that the older boy tries with the girl fails, and he kills himself. The girl and younger boy find their way out of the wilderness and are able to get back to modern society. It's not just a depressing movie because of the suicide, though. The whole message is sort of depressing.
In a lot of movies where people are lost or in nature, something changes. Maybe they connect with others and affect their lives (like Into the Wild - the main character is mostly alone but during his adventure, he really impacts and changes the lives of the people that he meets). If they're awesome, they might even break down cultural boundaries or some such thing. Sometimes the characters are changed by nature, maybe they even realize they aren't happy with modern life (I can't think of an example of this but because I thought of it, I imagine this trope exists, I'm not that creative).
Nothing like this happens in Walkabout. Nothing changes. The girl, like I said before, doesn't even try to communicate with the older boy. She never stops being a proper English schoolgirl, except for when she swims naked, which is hardly life changing. Once she is back in society, she more or less continues on with her life. No matter what, she can't be a part of the older boy's world. And no matter what, he cannot be a part of hers. He knows this, which is what makes him so hurt when she rejects his courtship - what else could he possibly try? So in the end, the older boy is dead, having been negatively impacted by the children, and the younger boy and girl just go back to modern life and...that's it. They didn't discover any secret thirst for outdoor living, or like, some wonderful connection with the human spirit or something. When they walk out of the wilderness, they put their school uniforms back on, hats and everything - the wilderness was just another chapter of their lives, and now it's closed.
Ebert writes about the unsettling truth of the movie, saying, "It suggests that we all develop specific skills and talents in response to our environment, but cannot easily function across a broader range. It is not that the girl cannot appreciate nature or that the boy cannot function outside his training. It is that all of us are the captives of environment and programming: That there is a wide range of experiment and experience that remains forever invisible to us, because it falls in a spectrum we simply cannot see," (Great Movies II, 506).
This is probably what made the movie so unsettling for me. It's hard to accept that we probably cannot connect to every person, and we probably cannot adapt to dramatically different living situations. I say probably because maybe someone can - but think of the example used in the movie, of tribal versus modern living. I doubt most of us could adapt to that lifestyle, because, like the girl and boy, we're simply not skilled enough in those ways (no matter how much Man vs Wild we watch).
I probably should rest instead of babbling about things I know nothing about. I really loved this movie, and I hope that you check it out if you get the chance. It's not what I expected, but that made it so much better. The story and message were so interesting, and I thought the direction was stunning - it's clear that the director has a great artistic eye. Let me know if you check it out!
Have any thoughts about Walkabout? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Walkabout
Buy it on Amazon