GP in Australia, which may be a heck of a commentary on what Americans find inappropriate. GP is our PG (I have an amorphous joke about Down Under and everything being backwards, but I don't have time to really cook it.) I mean, this movie has a lot of nudity, which includes underage girls and boys. Some of it has an erotic context, much of it doesn't. There's also suicide and murder. While I can see where the GP rating could come from, it wouldn't pass muster in the states. Regardless, GP.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Roeg
I'm all turned around. Since we're full on quarantined, there's not been a lot of time to write. The odds are that I'm not going be able to finish this blog today. But the worst part is that I have a draft of another blog just sitting there because, for some reason, my frantic mind started writing about the wrong movie. We'll see how this plays out. I watched my first Criterion release of Walkabout, which may be the first time I watched my copy of the film. I mean, I've seen it before. But actually watching my copy, picture-framing and all? It was an experience. I know that I'm asking the world for whoever is deliberately trying to get me bumped from Facebook, but please don't report the very questionable nudity above. There are so many great shots in the movie that have some degree of nudity from an Indigenous Australian that I had to give up, so please tolerate the shot that is mostly obscured.
For some reason, I consider Walkabout to be the most approachable artsy-fartsy movie. It's artsy-fartsy as all get out. I know that might not be the most intellectual thing to say, but I can't help it. I honestly put Walkabout into a mental category of "The Best of Criterion." Part of it is the idea that it is a very watchable movie. As next level as the movie gets, it still has a great sense of pacing, compelling characters, and a solid plot. Like, if you liked nothing about artsy fartsy movies, Walkabout kind of still works as just a movie about survival in the Australian Outback. It is an intense movie where you honestly question if they are going to survive. Roeg has the story really begin with a smash cut. The father, who is the definition of civilization (see, I'm already analyzing the film!), breaks from his routine of doing the most academic thing that could possibly be done, grading papers, to shift into a murder spree ending with a suicide. Thankfully, for the characters and the story, he's a lousy shot so he ends up just killing himself. But that instant smash cut takes what could be a commentary on civilization and drives up the suspense with an inciting incident that is disturbing. The boy goes from playing cops and robbers to unknowingly dodging real bullets. It's a really upsetting image, him firing his toy pistol back at his father, who is clearly off his nut.
But that's all I really want to talk about the evaluative element of the movie. It's a good film for nerds and casual watchers alike. What I really want to talk about is the role of civilization in this film and the concept of savagery, juxtaposed with the reality. Roeg starts his films with this montage of city life. He shows the absurdity of school, with girls making tribal sounds. We know, as members of the civilized, that these girls are simply preparing for choir. It's something that we've kind of accepted as commonplace. But there's something very ritualistic about the whole thing, isn't there? If you came from another world and saw girls, in unison, make guttural noises that had no meaning, you'd see these people as simple or savages. And those images juxtaposed to the Australian Outback are the point. While the film never shies from the idea that these kids could die out in the wilderness, there is an odd sense of normality and culture in the Outback. The boy and the girl do things that are reminders of their old lives. I find it extraordinary that the siblings can look so put together by the end. But it is when they abandon the confines of normalcy that things actually make a lot more sense. Like, it is absolutely absurd that the kid is still playing with a car. When he verbalizes that he might have torn his blazer, it comes across as absurd. Sure, they end up being right because they do make it back. But it really does feel like that, at one point or another, they should abandon all pretense of returning home. Because the more that they actually accept their situation, the more right it all feels.
In the MPAA section, I talked a bit about how this movie is full of nudity. It really is. There's just a lot of nudity throughout. But I also mentioned that some of it was erotic and some of it wasn't. I'm putting this all in context of the Indigenous Australian. This is a character who has no stake in being with the boy and the girl. We see him hunting when we are introduced to him. He doesn't even acknowledge that these two are dying out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, their ineptness seems absurd. I love how the boy and the girl cling to their civilized ways as if they are in charge. They yell their English louder as if that would change anything. But he's the new way of the world. He's the way of civilization that they have to accept. But as the story progresses and the trio grows closer, there is that sense of sexual attraction that goes on between the girl and the Indigenous Australian. That last sequence, where he is doing his mating dance, there's something absolutely tragic about what is happening there. This is where the two cultures need to clash. From her perspective, her virginity is hers. Her sexuality is her own. Because this man helped her, it means that she shouldn't necessarily share her body with him. But from his perspective, it feels like everything he has is about rejection. He did everything right. I could easily connect this idea to the "good guy" intention, but this is something very different. He views himself as a failure. His suicide has a ritualistic element to it. After the dance and the presentation of the self, that was his moment. That's what his Walkabout was about. There's where the communication really broke down. The girl, grown up to be a woman at the end with her husband, imagines him fondly. There is a love for that man, but that never really translated properly.
The last thing I really want to look at is the fact that the girl lies to the boy throughout. From one perspective, this is a story about a girl needing to adopt her womanhood far too early. There's never a question for her, having to abandon frivolous things. She goes from having an adorable picnic (covered in ants) to being the head of the family. There are moments when she questions her ability to survive, particularly when the boy is being kind of a butthead. But she never really misunderstands her role as the driving force for survival. She is a parent in a hot second. But that's why I look at the choice to lie to the boy as something that's worth noting. The girl is kind of a static character in the idea that she quickly acknowledges her fate. But the boy is dynamic. He's definitely not the protagonist of the story. If anything, he's the plot. (If the boy dies, the whole thing is a failure.) But he comes to terms with the idea that his father wasn't a good man, despite the fact that his sister was never really honest with him about the entire situation. Perhaps Roeg is talking about how we view our parents as we and they grow up. Sure, the children's father was an extreme case. But the boy, through a veil of imagination and denial, continues to view the walkabout, for all of its length and hardships, as simply part of the picnic for what must be weeks to months. (Although the boy's hair is at a reasonable length by the end of it.) Was it right for her to lie? It kept the boy alive. That idea that father will some day be there and perfectly fine is a powerful motivator, albeit impossible. It's an interesting choice.
I adore this movie. It's so good and so powerful. Yeah, I can see how people could view it as gross, especially considering how so many people got hung up on the Cuties thing not too long ago. But it is an amazing movie that is unquestionably gorgeous and meaningful. I loved returning to it after so long.
11/19/2020 06:03:21 pm
Great review. I saw this movie at West Point as a senior and I remember that one of the other cadets came out of the theater and tossed his cap across the lobby saying, "who needs this regimentation or even this civilization, I want the wilderness!"
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.