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A privileged British family consisting of a mother, a geologist father and an adolescent daughter and son, live in Sydney, Australia. Out of circumstance, the siblings, not knowing exactly where they are, get stranded in the Outback by themselves while on a picnic. They only have with them the clothes on their backs - their school uniforms - some meagre rations of nonperishable food, a battery-powered transistor radio, the son's satchel primarily containing his toys, and a small piece of cloth they used as their picnic drop-cloth. While they walk through the Outback, sometimes looking as though near death, they come across an Australian boy who is on his walkabout, a rite of passage into manhood where he spends months on end on his own living off the land. Their largest problem is not being able to verbally communicate. The boy does help them to survive, but doesn't understand their need to return to civilization, which may or may not happen based on what the Australian boy ends up ... Written by
Before specifically talking about the film, I just have to ponder the following question: Why do all films that take place in the 70s feel so 70s? Considering the fact that this movie was made in 1971, one must conclude that Roeg was a trend-setter. For my personal tastes, he went a little overboard with the freeze frames, jump cutting, radical though hardly subtle politics, and juxtaposition of jarring images. Aboriginal tearing into meat, Australian white butcher cutting meat in a sanitized setting, back to the Aboriginal, back to the butcher, and back again to the Aboriginal. And what's with all the scenes involving decomposing bodies? Yes, savage innocence, evil imperialists, death, nature vs. industrialization, corruption of a purer way of life, we see all these themes, but it would have been preferable to see it without being visually and aurally clubbed over the head like the poor animals in the outback are.
Disregarding that aspect, I quite liked the story of two white children, one very young, the other pubescent (and lingeringly shot), who get stuck in the Outback after their patriarchal and borderline psycho father is blown up. They then struggle to make it in the wild, and come upon an Aboriginal boy who is on a "walkabout", or a rite of passage journey that boys that age traditionally undertake in order to prove their worthiness as a man. This of course, becomes their walkabout, and they too become "wild" and free. Eventually, they make it back to "civilization", the first sign of this being a beautiful shot of the girl (whose name we never know- thus making it even more symbolic), coming into a clearing and gliding her hand over a man-made fence while walking backwards. What could be more symbolic of the Western values of property and ownership than a fence? She is ecstatic to be near an environment she holds dear, but her younger and more adaptable brother is less so, and the Aboriginal boy is even less so, which leads to tragic consequences.
The movie feels dated, not only in terms of camera-work but also thematically. It's no longer the job of white people to romanticize "savage" peoples, but rather to allow peoples to define themselves. Perhaps Roeg, in some small way, recognized this, thus choosing to have the Aboriginal boy speak his language and not provide us with subtitles. We could never understand totally, though we can sympathize.
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