Old 04-07-2009, 04:42 PM
Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout

Walkabout (1971)

Nicolas Roeg's "Walkabout" is a perfect example of what happens when you don't give your characters a single thing to do, or even a reason to exist. It is not enough to set your characters adrift and hope that a storyline or plot will develop on its own. There must be something that gives meaning to the situation or else the film just becomes a pointless exercise.

A father takes his son (Luc Roeg) and his daughter (Jenny Agutter) into the Outback of Australia for a picnic. Out of nowhere, the father begins firing a gun at the two of them, set the car on fire, and finally turns the gun on himself. The two children begin wandering through the desert with only the clothes on their backs and what food and drink they could carry from the picnic. While at a watering hole, they run into an Aborigine (David Gulpilil) who is on his "Walkabout," a survival test for his tribe in which he must survive in the Outback. The three of them join up and begin wandering across the land together.

The main thing I have noticed from watching two of Nicolas Roeg's films is that he seems to have a big problem with story structure and pacing. In one of his films that I previously reviewed, "Don't Look Now," he drags the second act out for far too long, which ends up hurting the film quite a bit. In "Walkabout," the problems begin with the main characters being thrown into this situation by a random plot device. The only possible reason for the father to have killed himself is possibly hinted at at the end, that is, if he knew what his wife had been up to. However, this still doesn't explain his random firing on the children.

With no events to fill up the time here, the pacing of the film is completely shot. Each scene drags on as Roeg fills up most of the time by showing us the scenery of the Outback, wild animals being killed, and using incredibly annoying freeze-frame images. If all this footage had been taken out, the film would probably not even be an hour long. Roeg's insistence at cutting away to the scenery just drills it into our heads that, yes, we are in the Outback. Unfortunately, we can't tell him, "Yeah, we get it already!" In his attempt to show us the beautiful landscape of Australia, it just started to feel like lazy film making.

There was potential here for an interesting cross-cultural film between the children and the Aborigine, but nothing ever develops. One big problem was that the Aborigine character is introduced too late in the film. After the opening establishing shots of the city and the random shooting, the children are left to wander around on their own for at least a good 30 minutes before the third character shows up. Even when the Aborigine does show up, it changes nothing, except that the children can survive using his hunting skills (which are part of the endless montage of killings throughout the film).

A romance attempts to develop in the last 30 minutes or so, or at least is hinted at. The Aborigine has come across other people on his journey with the children, but neglects to tell them, probably because he wants them to stay with him. Later on, he does a dance for the girl, which we can interpret as a kind of mating dance, but upon being rejected, he commits suicide. At this point, with nothing for the characters to develop with, or any reason for us to form an attachment to them, the audience could care less about their fate.

There was a strange theme of communication between the three characters. The girl never really attempts to make any communication with the Aborigine, which is unfortunate, because if she had tried, the tragedy near the end might have been averted. The boy however, almost magically picks up ways to communicate with the Aborigine right away, somehow being able to ask how much longer until they reach civilization, and being able to tell that the Aborigine wants him to find some wood for a fire.

Roeg does attempt to insert some symbolism into the film, like inserting brick walls near the beginning and ending of the film, possibly to show the physical barrier between nature and the city (or it could simply be the brick wall that the writer, Edward Bond, hit while trying to tell an interesting story), but he even manages to go overboard in this area. During some of the hunting scenes, when the Aborigine is cutting up the meat, Roeg felt the need to cut to shots of a butcher cutting up meat for some reason, as if he thought we wouldn't understand what was happening.

"Walkabout" and "Don't Look Now" were only Roeg's second and third films, so it's quite possible that, later on in his career, he made a film that was actually decent, and since he is still working, he continues to have opportunities to make up for his early work. Currently, he has 23 projects in his filmography including one in pre-production. So there stands a good chance that at least one of them is good. They certainly can't end up being any worse than this. 1.5/4 stars.
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Old 04-08-2009, 04:44 AM
Walkabout is freakin awesome! A very different exploration of childhood that is great to look at.

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