Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Walkabout (1971)

Before director Nicolas Roeg gave the world one of the finest and most disturbing horror films ever made, Don't Look Now, in 1973, he crafted an equally brilliant but very different film set in the Australian Outback, 1971's Walkabout.  

Based loosely on a 1959 adventure novel by James Vance Marshall, Walkabout amply displays the director's unfettered, prodigious talent for crafting symbolic visuals. Roeg's considerable efforts here remind the engaged viewer that film -- in the final analysis -- is truly a visual art form. 

To wit, Walkabout is a film consisting of very little dialogue, and the shooting script was reportedly just fourteen pages long.  And yet there isn't a moment of "emptiness" to be found anywhere in Walkabout.  Rather, through the repeating motif of cross-cuts, director Roeg encourages audiences to consider a story about innocence, and perhaps more specifically, the death of innocence.

With the Outback serving as both a backdrop and character in the film's narrative, and by marshaling a voice-over poem at just the right moment (from Alfred Edward Housman's 1896 work "A Shropshire Lad,") Roeg crafts an immensely emotional film; one that will deeply affect you for days after a screening.  This is even more the case now, since Roeg's director's cut is featured on the blu ray edition rather than the original theatrical release (which trimmed much of the film's full frontal nudity).

When Walkabout was released in 1971, Roger Ebert awarded the film four stars but sheepishly discouraged reading too much into the film's overwhelming symbolism.   Other critics have generally been more willing to engage the film on its own terms.  Writing in The San Francisco Chronicle, critic Edward Guthmann (in 1997) wrote that Walkabout is a "a film that's part anthem to the primitive world and part rebuke to the dull, overinsulated selfishness of contemporary man." 

Dominated by dazzling photography, gorgeous images and a lush John Barry score, Walkabout ably serves up a side-by-side comparison between disparate worlds: city life in modern Adelaide (though it looks like Sydney) and the wild, untamed life of the Outback. 

Unexpectedly, the crueler, more savage  and difficult world, according to the film, is that of the modern and "civilized" man. In the desert, at least, you can understand your enemies.

"I don't suppose it matters which way we go..."

In Walkabout, a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her pre-adolescent brother (Lucien John) are transported out into the desert by their emotionally-distant father, a "structural geologist."  While the girl prepares a picnic in the desert and the boy plays with a toy airplane, the father -- seen rifling through work papers -- unexpectedly snaps.  Taking out a gun, he begins shooting at his own children.

The girl and the boy escape the surprising homicide attempt, and only the girl witnesses her father kill himself.  While their Volkswagen burns in the desert, the forsaken girl and boy begin a long, lonely trek through the desert, hoping to find their way home. 

This 1970s equivalent of Hansel & Gretel, the boy and girl, walk for days until coming upon a miraculous oasis: a small pond and a fruit-bearing tree.  After a few days, however, they have used it  all up and the slice of paradise becomes a haven for serpents; for snakes.

Soon, the girl and boy encounter an Aborigine teenager (David Gulpilil) on a "walkabout," a rite of passage in which young men trace the heritage of their ancestors on the land. 

This kindly Aborigine leads the boy and girl through the desert safely, provides for their survival needs (by kangaroo hunting and fishing...) and teaches them his ways.  The white boy even picks up his language.  After a time, these three youngsters cohere like a true family, and the Aborigine develops an unspoken -- and forbidden -- romantic love for the girl.

After some time in the desert, the Aborigine young man gets the lost youngsters to an abandoned farm, another safe haven for this "family" to play house. But when the lovestruck Aborigine launches into a courtship dance before the English girl, she coolly and silently rejects him. 

The next day, the girl and the boy find out exactly what that rejection has meant to their generous friend, and then head on...down the road, in hopes of returning to civilization.

Some years later, the grown girl -- now a bored housewife in Sydney -- tunes out her dullard husband's vacuous talk of office politics and remembers those long-gone days in the Outback; her days with the Aborigine boy and her brother... 

A final voice over ends the film on a melancholy and wistful note.  "That is the land of lost content/I see it shining plain/The happy highways where I went/And cannot come again."

"Every man, every woman, is a star."

As noted above, Walkabout is a comparison of disparate worlds. To achieve that comparison, Nicolas Roeg uses a variety of visual symbols in Walkabout to suggest the corruption -- or at least strangeness -- of the so-called "civilized world."

Early in the film, for example, we see Agutter's character setting-up a blanket and picnic lunch out in harsh desert; clearly a misguided attempt to tame the unspoiled Earth. While she imposes mankind's sense of order on the desert, the film cross-cuts to views of lizards and other inhabitants, going about their business, oblivious to her attempts.

In the same scene, the girl's father goes crazy after Roeg cuts to insert shots of work papers: seemingly endless alphabetical lists of minerals and sheets of byzantine maps. The visual implication set up by the editing is that the father's madness is caused by his job; that the pressure (represented by his work papers) makes him irrevocably snap. The civilized world has made him deranged.

This critique of civilization recurs throughout the film.  For instance, as mentioned above, the boy and the girl find an oasis of life in the desert -- water and food -- and without thought of consequences, use it up in a matter of days.  When they leave, the land is dry; the fruit is stale and only snakes inhabit the tree. 

It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that this image is a veiled reference to the Garden of Eden parable; and the idea of man expelled from paradise

Perhaps more plainly, the destruction of the desert oasis and its resources is referenced late in the film when the boy and the girl come across a similar setting, writ large: a virtually abandoned mining town. 

The town is now nothing but a scrap heap, a garbage junk in the middle of the Outback.  Everything of value has been taken from it (as was the case at the desert oasis) and man has left behind only his garbage and detritus; mountains of twisted steel and rubber.

Another scene, mid-way through the film, also deliberately critiques modern man.  The Aborigine, the boy and the girl come in close proximity to a plantation where a white man is exploiting the local Aborigine youth to create cheap plaster statues of kangaroos and the like.  Again, the idea here is one of taking a resource (in this case, a human resource) and using it for self-interest; to line one's own pockets.

Later in the film, Gulpilil's character spies  white hunters shooting game near the abandoned farm.  We see an animal die in slow motion, struck by bullets.  The sight of this deeply upsets the Aborigine, a hunter himself.  And the reason, I suspect is that the hunters have evidenced no respect for their quarry.  Their technology (their guns and their jeeps) gives them an unfair advantage over the land, and a distance from their behavior.  Skill does not come into the picture. 

By contrast, the Aborigine boy hunts to provide for his new family; and and does not kill more than the family can eat.  He survives based on his skill; not based on the technology he possesses. To express this point, Roeg again crosscuts between images of the Aborigine boy cutting up a kangaroo and images of a city butcher chopping up meat in his store.  The idea implicit here, again, is that one culture is interested in survival, the other in commerce; in making money off the land

Eventually, even the heroic Aborigine boy played by Gulpilil is contextualized as a resource to be used up.  He rescues the boy and the girl, even leading them safely to a highway and a home of sorts.  But when he seeks a deeper meaning -- an emotional connection with the English girl -- she shuts him down.  She ignores him.  He has crossed a barrier she will not tread across and she essentially ignores him and spurns him for it.  Her attitude, now that  personal survival safety has been established, seems to be "what have you done for me lately?" 

Only in the film's last scene, do we see an older, reflective woman consider the Aborigine boy; and what he meant in her life; and what he gave to  her.  She imagines a scene right out of Paradise: the three wanderers in the desert frolicking in the water; on a rock.  It is an image of lost innocence, and it is the image we leave on in Walkabout.

In toto, the image of civilized man in Walkabout is not at all positive.  He is a creature who uses the land, rather than living off it in harmony, and he is obsessed with things that -- in the context of the desert -- have no significant meaning (consider the read weather balloons set loose in the wild by a group of horny European scientists in one scene...what purpose do they serve?).

Roeg's point isn't so much that we should all live in the wild and hunt for our own food.  The point is that in the vast desert, commerce, alphabetical lists of minerals, weather balloons and society's rules concerning miscegenation serve no useful or meaningful purpose.  Rather, torn from their context in city life, they actually go against nature, even human nature.

Although it is uncomfortable to write about this in our morally judgmental society today -- especially given that both Jenny Agutter's and David Gulpilil's characters are minors in Walkabout -- the plain fact of the matter is that as the film plays out, the Aborigine boy and the English girl become very much aware of each other's sexuality.  An attraction forms, and in this environment who can say it would be wrong for them to act on it?  They are, essentially, the only inhabitants of this vast desert, and also the mother and father figure in the ad hoc family.

Gulpilil's character -- a man of nature -- understands that this is a relationship that could and should happen, given the circumstances. 

But returned to modern civilization (and bred to that civilization), Agutter's character cannot make the same leap.  Instead, she denies any feeling she might have for the Aborigine boy and falls back on the "etiquette" of her culture.  Early in Walkabout we see her practicing etiquette lessons while listening to a program on the radio; and that's the very world the English girl retreats to at film's end.

One of the best sequences in Walkabout (and one trimmed upon theatrical release) finds Roeg  again cross-cutting, this time between the Aborigine boy hunting with the English boy, and Agutter's young girl swimming sensuously in a desert pool, nude.  The feeling evoked here is of total freedom and innocence; of doing what comes naturally to survive. Of just living --and enjoying life -- in such an unforgiving, chaotic terrain.

Walkabout suggests that living off a harsh, natural land is tough work.  You have scorpions, ants, dehydration and other challenges to overcome.  You have to find water and hunt for your supper.  But I believe the film's ultimate point is that there is nothing harsher and more difficult than living a life that goes against your very nature

I submit that's the unhappy destination where Agutter's character finds herself at film's end.  A caged bird in an antiseptic high-rise apartment building, with only her memories of freedom to sustain her.  Certainly, the wistful nature of the final voice over suggests the idea of a paradise lost.

Walkabout's ending diagrams the death of innocence.  Gulpilil's character has learned that he cannot adapt  to the strange rules of  modern "civilization."  And in that coda -- set years after his demise - Agutter's sense of hoplessness is tangible.  It reflects, purposefully, the little boy's sense of defeat early in the film, upon reckoning with the unending desert, one stretching to unknown horizons.

"We're lost, aren't we?"


  1. Wow John - no one's biting on the comments. Or else you've been too busy to mod them, perhaps.

    Anyway, I read half of your review yesterday, and then sought out the film and watched it for myself. I've just come back and read the remainder of your review and from my perspective, you nailed it. The imagery is very much "in your face" and the film pulls no punches in displaying the sharp contrasts between "modern" life and the natural symbiotic relationship between the aborigine and the outback.

    Reading some other online reviews paint the film is being exploitative of the young actress, but in viewing the film that concept was farthest from my mind. I thought the director skillfully used just about every shot to evoke a natural emotional reaction that was completely inline with his message.

    The freaky 1960's-1970's vibe is prevalent throughout and, being a child of the 70's, I thoroughly enjoyed every drop of it. I'd never seen or heard of this film before reading your review.

    Thank you for sharing it with us John.


  2. Believe it or not, this was shown to our 7th Grade social studies class...hey, it was the 1970's. I think the class was actually called M.A.C.O.S. (acronym for "Man a course of study"). No way (sadly) it would be in the curriculum today. I haven't seen it years (decades probably) but you've piqued my interest again.

    I had forgotten that the "girl" (Agutter) was also in "Logan's Run" (film) and "An American Werewolf in London" amoungst other horror/sci-fi flicks that we are into here.

  3. Hello, my friends, thank you for commenting on my review of "Walkabout," which was getting lonely! :)

    Nick: I'm glad you saw and enjoyed the film! It's amazing, isn't it?

    I must confess I'm absolutely in love with it, and agree with you that the movie does not exploit Agutter; that the nudity serves an artistic purpose; and moves us closer to understanding the director's symbolism.

    I don't know why no one else has commented on the review, here, frankly, except maybe that exploitative reputation has scared folks off.

    Indianhoop: That's amazing and awesome that Walkabout was shown in your seventh grade class. Man a Course of Study -- I love it!

    As you say, that would never happen today, not in a million years.

    And yes, that's Jenny Agutter of Logan's Run and An American Werewolf in London. I've always liked her as an actress, but I think her performance in Walkabout is her best. She captures the innocence and also callow side of youth perfectly. She did accomplished work here...

    Thank you both for writing about this extraordinary film. I hope others will also seek it out.

    best wishes,

  4. Thank you for an illuminating & beautiful piece on what really is a criminally ignored movie. Australian cinema, though often too readily dismissed, has given us some haunting films where the landscape seems to be as much of a character as those who find themselves lost in it. I'm thinking of the likes of The Last Wave, Picnic At Hanging Rock & The Long Weekend... eerie & unsettling, which at times, Walkabout most certainly is. The idea that the script was fourteen pages long is wonderful because the landscape itself replaces any perceived lack of action or dialogue. I have spent time living & travelling extensively in Australia & films such as this one truly do bring out something of the numinous vastness of that remarkable country.(I should mention that I'm Irish & not working for the Australian Tourist Board!) Anyway, I wanted to thank you again for this piece, which has inspired my first ever comment on someone's blog! Tried already so hopefully my second attempt will get through. I would love to see what you have to say about The Last Wave & if you have written about it already & I've managed to miss it, then apologies. Needless to say the thanks extend to all of other wonderful articles I have whiled away many an hour on. Best wishes from Ireland.

  5. Dave:

    Thank you for a wonderful comment. I am in total agreement with you on Australian cinema, especially 1970s Australian cinema.

    Walkabout, The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock are four star movies, I believe. All of 'em are masterpieces. I reviewed the latter two in my book, Horror Films of the 1970s and named Picnic one of the finest genre films of the decade in that text as well.

    On the blog, sometime back, I did review The Long Weekend. I also liked that a great deal. But I'm so glad you are drawing attention to all of these great films.

    Best wishes back to you, in Ireland, please write again!


  6. Thank you.. I have visited Hanging Rock twice, ten years apart, & the place is as haunting in real life as it was when I first saw it on television as a child. Maybe that's the power of cinema (& the eerily haunting soundtrack) playing tricks on me but I visited many of the locations from the Mad Max trilogy &, ahem, Razorback too (Now I want to watch that one again!) & the imaginary versions of places seem to sit very well with their 'actual' counterparts, if that makes sense? Thanks again. Hopefully I won't be a stranger in future!

  7. Hi Dave,

    That must have been AMAZING to visit Picnic Rock. I don't know if I could work up the courage, seriously...that place feels so haunted in the movie.

    I should watch Razorback again too...


  8. John,

    I'm a long-time reader and first-time commenter. You have a great blog, and I've definitely spent a few hours pouring over your archives.

    'Walkabout' is such a beautiful movie. I agree with you guys that the nudity isn't exploitative—although the camera is aware of its character's sexuality and explores it with surprising depth.

    It's been a while since I've seen it, but there's that awesome juxtaposition between the whole Aboriginal community investigating the Dad's now burnt out car and the boy and girl wrestling and horsing around. He sees up her skirt, and she becomes extremely self-conscious.

    The strange thing is that there's an inherent inequality between the scenes. The Aboriginal group's nudity is portrayed as pure and shameless, while Agutter's is shown as corrupted by civilization. It seems like the burnt out car and dead father help symbolize what's missing from the Aborigines: psychological repression.

    Thanks again for all the great writing on Film/TV.

  9. Hi David,

    Thank you so much for writing (for the first time, too...), and for the kind words about my blog and the review of the beautiful Walkabout.

    I agree with what you wrote so well: "although the camera is aware of its character's sexuality and explores it with surprising depth."

    That is a perfect way of putting it!

    There is that scene with the Aborigine looking up Agutter's skirt, as you recalled, and an expression passes between the two adolescents...an acknowledgment of sexual desire, as it were.

    I don't think it is crude or inappropriate, however, just a fact of life. And it is even kind of...innocent.

    Thank you also for noting the scene involving the Aborigines and the Dad's burned-up volkswagen. Another scene, that as you say, juxtaposes well the two worlds in conflict.

    I'm also fascinated by your observation about the "inherent inequality" of the depictions of nudity, and your mention of psychological repression.

    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    The great equalizer might be Agutter's final scene -- her daydream and vision of playing at the swimming hole with her brother and the Aborigine boy. She and the Aborigine are nude together; it's like she's righting a wrong in her mind; creating the equality that was not there in real life.

    That's how she imagines herself and remembers him, which is a fascinating thing.

    Anyway, I loved this thoughtful comment, and you've got me pondering this great movie all over again!

    All my best,

  10. Anonymous2:54 PM

    Your review is so right on on so many levels! I just saw Walkabout again for the first time in years(last time as a re-release in a landmark theater in SF. - first time with my family as a young girl) One thing though; I think the girl's "cool and silent" rejection is not just a callous rebuff - that the actress presented an accurate portrayal of the excitement/fear that comes from being approached regardless of the mutual chemistry - unable to cross the line with her new friend; I think this movie is a classic and while the symbolism a little far-out for mainstream viewers I think this movie will always be relevant! Great Job bringing this movie to new viewers! Lynn

  11. Hi Lynn,

    Thank you for your kind words about the review. I am open to your interpretation about the girl and her rejection of the boy being a result of social pressure/mores rather than something callous. I would like to see the picture again, but I can see how you feel that way, and that certainly seems in line with much of the picture in terms of theme.

    Great insight...


  12. Anonymous10:34 PM

    I just watched Walkabout this afternoon for the first time. I wonder if you could shed light on something I found puzzling. There is a long scene where the 3 are wandering through a lush landscape and the little boy is chattering away through the whole scene. Hard to understand what he was talking about. There were shots of animals from time to time and in conjunction with those scenes a brief image of a page that was being turned. This image occurred several times for just a couple of seconds each time. My friends and I conjectured that the boy was telling a story and these were the pages of the storybook being flipped. But that is just a guess. Can you offer additional insight? Thanks, Gloria

    1. I've just re-watched it and for the first time wondered the same thing. Thankfully with the advance in technology allowing pause and rewind, I was able to read a little from some of the text. It appears to be an industrial metal report about %ages of various things and how production has change etc. Which therefore appear more likely to be pages of the report the father had been reading.

  13. Anonymous6:47 PM

    I just watched this and thought what an awsome film.

    What does nark me is you all seem to assume the Girl rejects the boy for all crazy reasons like social pressure etc.

    Why can't she just not fancy him? Sure she looks at his body in some scenes but thats not surpising or unatural for an adolecent.

    One minute the boy is calm and friendly, the next hes leaping around with a hardon. I'd be scared. Im sure if you put an amazon tribal girl in place of the "western" one she would react in a similar manner.

    Don't get me wrong, I understand the point that the capitalist man at the end she is with is equally repulsive.

  14. Anonymous3:44 AM

    I saw 'Walkabout' last night -a remarkable and enlightening film to an old European.Your critical review added to my appreciation of this masterpiece

  15. Anonymous7:59 AM

    Watched the film for a second time last night. The first time was back in the mid/late seventies sitting alongside my aunt who was babysitting!

    What struck me again was the lack of shock or emotion displayed by either child on finding the Aborigine the morning after the courtship dance. There seems an objectiveness and a distance, emphasised by the boy offering his penknife and the girl wiping ants from his chest.

    Neil, Edinburgh

  16. Anonymous10:26 AM

    Yes it was on BBC Television last night and I watched it with my 2 adolescent daughters. First time I'd seen it since I was about their age. I found the style of the film - music for example - a bit dated and many things jarred not least Roeg's editing style which is explained in the review. On the whole though it is a film that lingers in the mind. It had more of an impact on me when I first saw it - the same spookyness as Hanging Rock which coincidentally I saw recently on DVD. I think Picnic at Hanging Rock is more overtly a "horror" in the way that some of Roald Dahl's stories are horror. Walkabout wasn't as spooky to me as an adult.
    Jenny Agutter was a stunningly beautiful girl and when I was an adolescent boy, the film's reputation amongst my peers owed as much to her nudity as to anything else but watching the film as an adult, it struck me that she was an object of desire when she was in her tights and ridiculously short skirt. When nude there was no sexual allure - like the aboriginals she was as we all are - part of nature. I felt that Roeg was saying that its our urban society that corrupts the female body in particular and turns it into a sex object. In hunter gatherer societies there is no corruption of nudity/sexuality and desire emerges in a highly structured cultural context as was evidenced by the boy's dance ritual and is not in your face 24 hours as way of selling crap we don't need.
    Gulpin's character was so sweet and I really felt for him -his tears at seeing the buffalo shot, his earnest explanation to the girl that he loved her and wanted to establish a home with her in the abandoned farm.
    The film was shown on the BBC after an hour long documentary on aboriginal bush craft and culture and in this age when we are facing environmental collapse and the end of cheap oil, both documentary and film were very poignant. Aboriginal society could be sustained indefinitely in the harshest of environments but ours is on the brink of collapse and has teetered there since Roaeg made his film. Excellent film - as important now as it was in 1971 despite the dated aspects.
    R Thomas

  17. Anonymous6:59 PM

    Thank you for your wonderful Blog on WALKABOUT...this film completely blew me away, and this line taken from your writing summed it up;
    "the film's ultimate point is that there is nothing harsher and more difficult than living a life that goes against your very nature. "

    I was left reeling, crying deep tears of recognition.
    such a beautifully shot, wide wide wide open film. vast and full of amazing details. God how humans can just fuck things up, the scene of the guys with their shotguns, the sound of the guns so loud LOUD. Horrific!
    Gulpin- what a love.


  18. Anonymous8:19 PM

    The final scene of them on the rock and swimming in the pool haunts and fills me with such sadness of lost innocence and childhood - how modern man has missed the whole point to life.

  19. I had to see this for Film History and really liked the film however, I really didn't understand the last quarter of the film. Your explanation was eye-opening and very pleasant to read (comparing to wikipedia). Thank You so much for taking the time to write it out, I have a whole new respect for this film!

  20. (sorry if this repeats...my comment didn't show up)
    I had to watch this film for my Film History Class. I really really enjoyed it however, I didn't understand the last quarter of the film; and I truly wanted to. Your explanation was so clear, interesting to read and enormously helpful! I have a whole new respect for this film. There are so many interesting facts about how it was made but I didn't think that the symbolism ran that deep. Thank You so much for posting!

  21. I'm commenting almost a year and a half after this was posted, but I wanted to say this was quite useful. I'm studying Semiotics at uni and we've just finished watching 'Walkabout', which I've decided to write about for my assignment.

    I think you highlighted some great points. There are one or two that, while in the overall film context make sense, my background in zoology and geology are screaming to contradict (which is, of course, not to question your great analysis, only to present an alternate viewpoint).

    The scene of the father, out in the middle of nowhere, reading through his structural geology report, who then goes bat-shit crazy: rather than suffering from the pressures of his job, I saw as the demise of the mining industry; he's probably lost/about to lose his job. That is further hinted when we come across the abandoned mining town. I think there was a mining crash in the '70s, based on quick research. I had to scoff at the fact that he's a structural geologist in a suit, in the middle of the desert. I've never ever seen a geologist in a suit ;) Mostly because they're out in the field and it's hot and dirty ha! So, this could be a reflection of Roeg's naivity of the industry, or simply an exaggeration of the 'cultured white man' symbolism (and me being way too literal).

    The scene of the scientists is a juxtoposition of how white culture views nudity, in particular female nudity. Nudity to white society has sexual connotations, whereas in the following scene there is no sexuality linked with Jenny's nakedness. To the Aborigines, nudity is natural, part of how they are, how they were born. I also had to laugh at the whole scientific set-up, and the fact that the female scientist donned a blouse and skirt, because it's so not a true reflection of how scientists dress in the field. And we wouldn't take out a full lab like that. Me just being nitpicky, but I guess it conveyed the symbolism, albeit loudly.

    The scene of the oasis drying up: it wasn't actually Jenny and Lucien that consumed all of the fruit. It was the budgies, who strip trees and move on to their next resource. Jenny and Lucien didn't consume all of the water, it dried up during the heat of the day. I think that the scene was used to highlight their inability to survive on their own, because there are food and water resources available if they only knew where to look. Though, I like your image of over-consumption. I just don't think it is necessarily highlighted in this particular scene. That was my impression of it anyway, and it could be me reading too much into the science of it haha! A bad habit of mine!

    Anyway, I found your review quite useful. The first time I viewed the film there were a lot of scenes that completely threw me. On reflection parts make sense, but I thought you summarised it nicely, and helped me fill in the gaps. So thank you :)

  22. I am no film buff but happened upon this film, which I knew in name only, and thought it might be worth a watch. How pleased I am. Though I felt I didn't understand it much, reviews such as this have confirmed my thoughts about what was going on. And being driven to find reviews at all says something about how the film has affected me and I hope stays with me for some time.

  23. Just watched Walkabout and wanted to read some other points of view on the symbolism in the film. Very grateful that I found John's blog and some very thoughtful, considered opinions from others. Will be heading back here again. Cheers.

  24. Anonymous8:31 PM

    Walkabout was on TCM lastnight. I had never heard of the film, nor did I watch it from the begining. I missed the part about the father, and I mistakenly assumed he died in a car accident while the childen were unharmed. I found your commentary while searching online to learn more about the movie. After reading several different review sites I'm dismayed no one thought it odd that none of the dialog of any of the aboriginals is subtitled. The film would seem to be very much about city vs nature, loss of innocence, commentary on isolation in proximity, etc. What got my attention is during the entire film there is an entire culture left mute only in so much as we have no idea what any of the aboriginals are saying. For all we know they could have been told by the director to speak gibberish, or they are talking about us in front of our faces - they see us as children dependent on our toys. In this I wondered if the film mocked the viewers. There is more concern about nudity of the girl than the tacit silencing of the native culture. How very missionary!! The irony!!!! In the end I was insulted that the aboriginal boy took his life over the rejection from the girl. It was great for the shock value but for me the film leapt from a plausable commentary filled with symbolism to a cliche designed to ruffle english sensibilties.

    1. The film is about the ways in which people are unable to communicate with each other, despite their proximity. As such, Roeg sought to create in the viewer a set of anxieties which were, in some ways, similar to those of the girl; if we could understand what he was saying, this tension would be lost. Just because he did this, however, it does not necessarily mean that he has othered the aboriginal boy, or made us side unduly with the girl. Far from it: Roeg looked for ways to communicate the boys emotions in ways that went beyond language, and, by and large, he does so without resorting to sentimentality. The film is not a politically correct exercise in highlighting the worthiness of different cultures; it is one which reminds us our own failures, shortcomings, oversights and assumptions, and by doing so, humanises the boy more than words alone ever could.

  25. This is a film I first saw when I was younger than the girl/boy and so my perception of the film has changed significantly over time. Initially, I saw it purely as an adventure story of the young boy, facing the desert but needing to rely on his big sister - who had her own trials to face, including (I first thought) trying to prevent the scary violent but useful stranger from a) killing them both, b) abandoning them, c) some strange tension I didn't understand between the sister and the stranger which lead to him oddly dying in a very confusing way. Oh, and I thought the dad had just been playing when shooting at them and had somehow had an accident - yep, childish impressions of this film were very different.

    Despite that naive and limited view, I knew I loved the film even from that first viewing. The visuals and "adventure in nature" narrative were compelling.

    There are a few things I'd pick out to slightly interpret differently to your review from subsequent viewings:

    - the father appears to have lost his job - leaving the office alone, etc seems to point to this.
    - the drive into the desert is pre-meditated rather than going crazy reading the reports, apparent from the shot of the fuel gauge already almost empty. He is clearly not planning a return trip. I see his continuing focus on the work papers as the last twitching of a man who knows he is already dead but it hasn't quite sunk in to his whole behaviour.
    - the boy appears to be at an expensive school - perhaps leading the father to resent him most and hence why he tries to shoot him first and also the way the father says "and bring HIM back" or something when hiding behind the rocks. There appears to be some particular focus on the boy.
    - as already pointed out, the oasis dries up regardless of the kids being there. To me, that scene plays to unsympathetic nature, even in beauty (of the birds etc), and then is revealed to be how nature can be everything we need if only we know how to live with it when the stranger laughingly shows them how they were still sat on ample water.
    - the girl rejecting the advances of the stranger - I see that as her being scared of her own feelings, that she had been starting to feel a bond but was struggling with new feelings of physical attraction which he didn't understand would be a problem. Ultimately a tragic story of young feelings being too much for both of them in different ways and the inability to communicate their feelings leading to dire consequences. That's something which resonates regardless of the specific context of the film - powerful adolescent hormone driven feelings being surprising and scary and seeming to be THE most important thing, more important than life for those afflicted with the pain of (seemingly) unrequited 'love'.

    (Typed on a phone so please forgive any errors, or strange sentence structure as I can't proof it properly)

  26. I suppose it was a nice film, but I can't overcome the illogic in it, such as the girl deciding to leave the road back home and wander into the wilderness even after the father killed himself, and then the Aboriginal boy killing himself when he must have realized they have different cultures and may not understand his advances.

    1. The father had deliberately driven far off road. The children had no idea which way to head. There's a moment where the indicision is shown, but the older sister then has to act decisively to help her younger brother stay confident in her.

      The aboriginal boy I think 'danced himself to death' driven by sexual frustration. I never interpreted it as deliberate.

  27. Anonymous9:36 PM

    Found this movie recently on TCM as a random "I'll try that" and loved it. The symbolism was intense and I have spent hours reading analysis of the film and what it meant.

    Here's what I am currently hung up on. In the end of the movie we see a glimpse of the children swimming nude in a pond. My question is did that really happen or was that an imagined version from Jenny's point of view.

    During the main portion of the movie we see Jenny toying with her sexuality but always aware of it and unwilling to commit beyond a certain point (swimming nude by herself and concerned with her skirt in the tree scene). If the film timeline is correct the scene where they all swim nude happens at some point after they meet and before the conclusion when they find the deserted house. If that was true and they have seen each other nude why would she be so concerned with the Aborigine boy seeing her without her shirt.

    Was it ok to swim nude when they were in the wild because there it felt natural but in the context of the abandoned house the rules of western culture had to be observed?

    I can't figure out if the ending scene happened as is and reminded her of a time when she was truly free or if it was her interpreting the past in a way she wished were true. The stark contrast between the all the scenes in the main portion of the movie and the ending scene frustrate me because I can't determine if we are being told something or asked to interpret something.

    Thank you for the summary and analysis of a great movie.