Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 325: Walkabout (1971) - Rank 4/5


"Walkabout" is a dark and terse coming-of-age story in the wilds of the Australian outback. The film derives its title from the Aboriginal rite of passage ceremony where the young males of the tribe disappear into the wilderness and survive off of the land, only to return some time later as “a man.” That individual is played by one of the most distinctive Aboriginal character actors in pictures, David Gulpilil (an excellent, first performance). During his excursion across the Australian desert, he happens across two young children, Girl and Boy, whose father killed himself and left them to rot in the wilderness. Hindered by the language barrier, Girl makes it clear that she and her brother wish to return to “civilization,” and together, the three set off on their journey.

While the basic setup may seem prime fodder for a Disney live-action film, the finished product is anything but in the hands of Nicolas Roeg. Roeg pits the travelers against themes of sexual frustration and coping along with the sun and venomous wildlife. The juxtaposition of colonial civilization with Aboriginal mysticism is as present here as it is in some of Peter Weir’s earlier works (blatantly presented at times, as we see Girl lugging a transistor radio through the desert, tuned to a station that spouts out etiquette advice 24/7). But the film differs from Weir’s works, because the heart of the film is not a mystery, but rather, a tale about the dissolution of youth and the premature acceptance of responsibility. Roeg uses the backdrop of Australia’s outback so beautifully, the entire film often feels like William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” sent wonderfully into motion.

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