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Landmark near masterpiece of the cultural clash between nature and civilisation
Filmtribute25 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Director Nicolas Roeg's ('Don't Look Now') cinematographic skills and admiration pay especial tribute to Walkabout's powerful combination of Australia's awesome scenic diversity and the sensual Jenny Agutter, and the whole effect is embellished by John Barry's sublimely magical score. I would hasten to add that as well as being very pleasing to watch, enhanced by Roeg's voyeuristic use of the camera, Agutter provides a skilful performance as a prejudiced unworldly teenager, who is naively unaware of the sexuality she exudes whether naked or wearing her high cut school skirt. Although it was a somewhat amusing shock to recently discover that a body double was employed for Agutter in the shower scenes for 'An American Werewolf in London', no such deceit was used in this film. Immediately after filming 'Walkabout', Agutter reprised her BBC serialisation role of two years earlier as Bobbie for Lionel Jeffries' sumptuous version of Edith Nesbit's 'The Railway Children', ensuring her immortalization as an iconographic beauty. She graduated thirty years on into the role of the mother for a Carlton TV production and is currently involved in producing a film script about the life of the author.

On a deadly picnic into the desert a father (John Meillon; 'Crocodile Dundee') inexplicably snaps, shooting at his two children before torching his car and turning the gun on himself. Now the children, absurdly kitted out in their formal school uniforms, are lost and carelessly lose their provisions, except for the transistor radio with its inane babble being another illustration of how hopeless our technology is against nature. Fortuitously they stumble upon an oasis and find their only saviour in the form of an Aborigine (David Gulpilil; 'Rabbit Proof Fence') on a rites-of-passage walkabout. The seven year old boy (Lucien John, the director's son) happily has a child's ability to communicate with the Aborigine despite the language barrier, something his older sister never grasps, deftly demonstrated on their first encounter when she is increasingly frustrated by the lack of comprehension of her demands for water. Roeg crosscuts stunning kaleidoscopic images of the physical landscape and its critters, with the killing of animals and the domestic butchering of joints of meat to give a stark contrast between nature and civilisation. However, given this was his first solo effort, his overworked montages can be a little irritating and confusing, and show off the cinematographer rather than the director in Roeg.

The director emphasises the unrealised sexual tension by explicitly marrying shots of both the teenagers with suggestive trees in the form of intertwined human limbs, as well as providing us with a diverting interlude involving a group of meteorologists. The deeply sad misunderstanding of the two cultures gives poignancy to the film that is its strength, especially delineated by the Aborigine's tribal courtship dance for Agutter, which only serves to terrify her and increase her distrust. Her lack of emotion for their former helpmate is staggering. When faced with a dangling corpse the girl asks trivial questions of her brother about his breakfast whilst pointlessly picking ants off the body. The tragic outcome is also indicative of the current state of Aboriginal life expectancy with a higher proportion dying through accident, assault and self-harm than any other Australian demographic group.

The failure of her parents to prepare her for the change from childhood may have contributed to the tragedy, and it is only on reflection years later, living the same life as her parents and similarly caged in an apartment block, that Agutter's character senses that maybe she missed her chance. It is interesting to note that the children are deliberately English to highlight the cultural clash between the European settlers and the original inhabitants of this ancient land, and I wonder if similarly white Australians would have had any more understanding of the indigenous customs of the Aborigine boy. 'Walkabout' is a far more visual depiction of sexual awakening colliding with alien cultures than that other famous picnic that goes horribly wrong in Peter Weir's 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' (which this predates by four years), with its metaphorically implied unease centred on a sacred Aboriginal site that eventually destroys the established order of a Ladies College.

'Walkabout' is as relevant today as when it was released in the era of '70's industrialisation with the Kakadu National Park once again under threat from a new uranium mine on its boundary. The Northern Territory's tribe Mirrar is currently involved in this dispute over land rights and excavations, although mining was temporarily ceased on Aboriginal land in the mid 1990's. This is a sensitive issue as Australia's economy relies on the export of uranium in the production of nuclear power, and Aborigines oppose the exploitation of the Earth's resources for profit. The company at the centre of this discord also operates the Ranger mine which is depicted along with the rock band Midnight Oil (well known for their campaigning land rights missive 'Beds Are Burning') in eX de Medici's 'Nothing's As Precious As A Hole In The Ground', a recent acquisition by Australia's National Portrait Gallery.

Despite last year's rush by some of Hollywood's well-known directors returning home to make Aboriginal films, including Phillip Noyce's 'Rabbit Proof Fence' (released 21 February) about the 'Stolen Generation', and 'Yolngu Boy' which did well at a film festival in Colorado, I sadly suspect very few of us in the UK are likely to see them. Apparently there has not been a commercial success for a black-themed movie since 1955's 'Jedda', the first Australian feature to star Aboriginal actors. If the hope of a '70's New Wave style revival is to be realised for Australian cinema, surely it is time for the industry worldwide to wake up to the fact that a wealth of film exists outside of Hollywood, and that the viewing public may actually welcome some variety.

With the release of the director's full cut in 1998 both the DVD and the video are unusually available for the UK as well as the US from Amazon.
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sunsix14 April 2004
Goodness gracious it's amazing how many reviewers missed the most obvious aspect of the film. This tale is about innocence and it approaches that from many different angles. As for Roeg practicing camera tricks-maybe today these are tricks but at the time the style was a pioneering method of telling and showing psychological elements, wasted on todays audiences. Roeg presents innocence in juxtaposition with the hardness and neuroses of society, not as WHITEMAN BAD but as society, modern society makes us very neurotic by taking away our innocence. Roeg makes an brilliant point and stylizes a mostly nonverbal experience by letting us journey with children all on the cusp of some new stage of growth. This movie is a small masterpiece!!
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Who Says Silent Cinema Is Dead?
loza-18 June 2005
Although this is a sound film, and the characters talk to one another, this film could have been made just as well in the 1920s. It does not really need sound.

The film is about nature, and man's relationship with it. If a civilised person were left out in the desert, then they would soon die. But, as this film shows, there are people and creatures living out there quite happily.

The film has been criticised for having a weak beginning and a weak end. But where does the story of this film start? And where and when would you end it? Yes you can end it when the two children get back to civilisation. But does the story end there? No. Because of their experiences, things are never going to be the same again. And for them, the story has not finished, it is only just beginning.

I have seen this film several times and I notice something different every time I see it.
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The Australian outback comes alive.
Tophee28 February 1999
Superb cinematography, the Australian outback comes alive in this film of self discovery and regret. Agutter plays the English girl brilliantly, incapable of comprehending anybody or anything that doesn't conform to her middle-class values and upbringing. Roeg is also excellent as her brother, adapting to each and every change in circumstance as only children can. I have watched this movie many times, and always get something new from it. Highly recommended to anyone, although parents might want to watch it before letting their kids see it.
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A very beautiful and mysterious film.
seandchoi23 March 2002
"In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT. This is the story of a 'WALKABOUT'." Thus begins Nicolas Roeg's 1971 debut feature, "Walkabout", one of the most beautiful, mystical, and magical film I've had the privilege of seeing as a filmgoer. Seeing it again recently on the beautiful Criterion edition DVD, I was once more captivated by this film as it slowly worked its magic on me. The "plot" of "Walkabout" is simplicity itself: a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her little brother (the director's son in real life, Lucien John Roeg--billed "Lucien John" on the credits) are stranded on an Australian outback as their father, who took them out for a picnic, suddenly and inexplicably commits suicide. The two of them are thus left wandering by themselves and it looks as if they will die in the vast wilderness--until they encounter an Aborigine boy who is on his "walkabout," an Aborigine rite of passage into manhood. For a time these kids travel together as a trio and the Aborigine's skills in hunting and finding water allow them to survive. And although the girl and her brother will eventually find their way back to civilization, for a brief unspecified length of time the exotic Australian outback becomes a wondrous and mystical place where their story of survival unfolds. If you've seen this film, you know that the brief synopsis above doesn't really touch what is so special about "Walkabout." And that is because "Walkabout" isn't really about plot, like more conventional films. It is one of those rare films like Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock," Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven," and Wim Wender's "Wings of Desire" which are all about evoking a kind of sad and bittersweet emotional response from us. I think that is what "Walkabout" is mostly about. The overall impact of this film "hits you in the heart" and very impressionable viewers might be stirred in their emotions to the point of swooning in the scene at the end where the girl, now a married woman, remembers her idyllic days happily swimming in one of the outback's water holes Nicolas Roeg was not only the director of "Walkabout" but also its cinematographer. And his photography in this film is unbearably beautiful and sumptuous. "Walkabout" is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous color films ever made. Shot on location in the Australian outback--perhaps one of the most exotic places on earth--"Walkabout" has a visual grandeur that is reminiscent of passages from David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and John Ford's "The Searchers." Never has the "voodoo of location shooting" (as Werner Herzog likes to call it) been more manifest than in this film. In fact, the exotic and unique location in which it was shot, coupled with Roeg's masterful cinematography, feels like one of the main characters in "Walkabout." The film's location adds a mystical (almost spiritual) and meditative dimension to it which lingers in the viewer's mind--haunting it long after the film is over. If Roeg's photography is one of the film's main characters, so is John Barry's legendary and justly famous score. Maybe it's the harp used in the score, or the subtle billowing quality of its composition (i.e. the way its beautiful melody gently builds and builds), but the music in this film simply soars. It moves me like no other score I've ever heard. It feels completely transcendent, as if it exists outside time and space altogether--but gently swooping down from time to time, "kissing" this film's images with aching sweetness. All of the above elements work together to form a film-viewing experience that inspires both beauty and awe in us. The film's message is not necessarily that life in the outback is better than life in a modern civilization, but that no matter where you happen to find yourself (even if that happens to be a wilderness like the Australian outback), if you have resources that meet your basic needs, it can become your "home" for a time. And that afterwards there is bitter-sweetness in reminiscing about those "good times" you were fortunate enough to have--to which you can never return again.
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Another opinion
jdwilliams-211 July 2005
As far as comments about Roeg's going overboard with his message of "nature/aborigine good, industrialisation/white men bad," this is a simplistic way of reading it. First of all, every director has his or her own style, and Roeg started as a cinematographer--his movies tend to contain long, meditative (or, boring, depending on one's view) visual passages. Roeg floods the screen with cascades of images, by turns repetitive and contrasting, much as a poet uses the sounds and rhythms of words, as well as their semantic content, to create "meaning" in the context of the poem.

To expect Roeg not to dwell on images is to expect Tolstoy not to go off on 20-page rants about how the lack of Napoleon would necessitate another to fill his historical role. One overlooks idiosyncracies in one's friends.

I found the movie much more powerful than I expected. My only disappointment with the Criterion DVD release is with the commentaries. I would love to have heard more about the story, and it would have been nice to have heard from David Gulpilil, whose role as the aborigine was a watershed in Australian cinema, as noted in the IMDb article on his career.
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Outstanding commentary on cultural clashes, though a bit puzzling at times.
Aldanoli1 May 1999
A sometimes puzzling, sometimes enigmatic, but always interesting movie, although it is a bit easier to understand if you've read the novel on which it's based. Jenny Agutter is particularly good as the English girl who suddenly finds herself stranded in the desert with her younger brother, and was at just the right age--about 16--to play the part. David Gulpilil as the aborigine youth "gone walkabout" who rescues them is also excellent. The uncomfortable contrasts between European and aboriginal cultures are undeniably accurate, and the use of A. E. Housman's poem, "Into my heart an air that kills" adds additional poignancy to the already bittersweet ending.
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What's this talk about "Walkabout"
rlcsljo30 July 2000
In the late sixties and early seventies there was an unusual kind of excitement when you went to the movies. It probably had not happened since movies were first invented and has not happened since in commercial theatrical releases. This was the feeling of "I don't know what is going to happen next"! What happened one day was completely unexpected when I first saw the opening of "Walkabout". The introduction gave almost no clue as to what was to come next, but it was visually and aurally fascinating. The rapidity in which the plot shifted gears made you more sympathetic to the plight of our main characters. The sudden appearance of the Aborigine boy in the nick of time and his taking them under his wing. Then surprises of all surprises--our heroine does many nude scenes. Then her final look of yearning at the end suddenly explains it all. All the while Roeg is doing a travelogue of the Australian outback. This movie is pure genius from beginning to end. A must for any movie collection.
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Beautiful lead character and a film with a subtle message
abethell-217 April 2004
I first remember seeing this film as a late teenager in about 1979. Therefore what most vividly stuck in my mind was the lead character played by a beautiful blonde English girl, Jenny Agutter, Specifically the nude scenes of her swimming and washing.

On a less superficial level it is a film with a point-something along the lines of the graciousness of Aborigines and their ability to live in harsh surrounds, and the destructive nature of suburban life in a flat in a major city.

I think it would be a film, like Jedda, that will always be on reference for the Australian Outback, Aboriginals and the modern society which brought a European civilisation to their land.
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Survivor of Zeitgeist
AbandonedRailroadGrade26 February 2000
A remarkably potent little film about a couple of very proper English kids who get lost in the Australian outback and hitch up with an aborigine boy on his initiation quest (or "walkabout"). My mom took me to see it when I was ten, and I've been haunted by it ever since. With some understated yet disturbing themes of alienation and violence, as well as the first scenes of full nudity I had ever witnessed on screen, I've sometimes wondered whether mom knew what she was getting into when she took me along. According to the trailer in the letterbox edition, Parents' Magazine recommended the film "without reservation" for young and old alike, because it depicts "facts of life." While that may be true, times have changed, and I can't imagine anyone today describing this subtle and unsettling story as "family fare." Incredibly tame, on its face, by today's standards of sensory overload, its essential world-weariness and maturity is no longer a didactic priority in our age of overconfidence. Watching it recently, I was on guard for signs of the myth of the "noble savage"--the hackneyed, simplistic, and generally hypocritical pretension that pre-industrial and non-Western peoples are morally superior to decadent moderns, which is demeaning to both modern and "savage" alike. There are instances of it here--most notably when a couple of rifle-toting, four-wheeling hunters decimate the landscape--but the overall emphasis is on the parallels between aborigine and Western life. Even scenes of the transience and decay of modern civilization are mirrored by the life-and-death cycles of the wilderness. With so many underlying similarities, the real question is why the teenaged English girl cannot embrace, figuratively and literally, the young black man who has saved her life and provided so selflessly for her, even while her younger brother, in all his innocence, has never doubted that they are a family. Is it race? Culture? Or does it reach to more fundamental questions of boy and girl, man and woman, human and human? This film has held up remarkably well over the past 30 years, and is well worth a look.
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Roeg's first masterpiece
tieman6413 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Nicholas Roeg's trademarks are very clear: beautiful cinematography, extensive inter-cutting, a willingness to be mildly experimental and a basic thematic preoccupation with the sudden collision of different cultures or lifestyles. Whether these characteristics are sufficient to sustain a director's career, or to form the basis for distinguished achievement within commercial cinema, remains problematic." - Chuck Kleinhans (1974)

Apparently Roeg's preoccupations weren't enough to sustain his career. In the 1970s he made a string of great films, but by the late 1980s Roeg had all but disappeared from cinema.

"Walkabout" (1971), regarded by many as Roeg's finest film, offers a deceptively simple story. Here a father drives his young daughter and son out into the Australian desert. He harbours sexual feelings for his daughter and so, in an attempt to end his lusts, plots to kill both his children. His murderous plan fails, however, and the kids escape. The father then puts a gun in his mouth and commits suicide.

The two children thus find themselves stranded in the middle of the Australian Outback. They make their way across the desert, but are unprepared for this harsh environment.

Luckily, an adolescent aboriginal boy on his "walkabout" (a tribal rites of passage) finds the two kids. He helps them forage for food and water, and gladly escorts them back to civilisation. But like the father, the aboriginal boy soon becomes sexually attracted to the young girl. He's seduced by her beauty, her short school skirt and pale skin. He performs a mating dance, but due to a lack of understanding, the girl rejects the boy's ritualistic advances. The boy commits suicide.

Slowly Reog's themes coalesce: "Walkabout's" entire male cast seems seduced by the film's female protagonist (Jenny Agutter), the girl an innocent siren who lures men to their deaths.

The first male to fall under the girl's spell, of course, is her father. This unhealthy romantic interest is the only reason presented for his insanity. Later, the girl's brother will spy on her swimming unclothed in a lagoon. Not even his young years can spare him from her enchantment. Then there's the aboriginal saviour, who toward the end of film performs a vibrant mating dance. It is in this relationship where the film's sexual contrasts are made most clear. Roeg's males are beholden to the unreachable girls whims, needs, and beauty.

As such, there is sense of unattainability apparent in each relationship: father cannot be with daughter, brother with sister or "savage" with lady. It is even accentuated through the girl's attire: her school uniform is prohibitive of romantic interest.

The film is bookended by two strange deaths, which are both suicides and seemingly caused by the girl. However, she does not seem bothered by these deaths and simply accepts them as being part of her nature. This adds a tragic dimension to everything that happens in the film, making the girl's eventual salvation depressing rather than hopeful.

Roeg's second big theme is that of communication. The urban kids rely on verbal language and find security in the constant warble of a portable radio. In contrast, communication with the native is effective only through crude physical gestures. Thus, the cultured and the pre-industrial can't communicate. It's this lack of communication, an inability to converse on the same wavelength with the female, that dooms the man. He withers in the desert, while she walks free, blissfully unaware of the power she holds over him.

The film is also obsessed with creating fleeting juxtapositions. A burning car is crosscut with a roasting animal carcass. The urban children are first seen together in a swimming pool next to an ocean, whilst later they'll be surrounded by the arid desert. Western clothing is contrasted with the native's nakedness. The native hunts with spears, whilst a team of European scientists (also on a sort of Western walkabout) are shown hunting game with rifles and jeeps. Similarly, shots of the native cutting apart a kangaroo for dinner are contrasted to an urban butchers shop.

These juxtapositions are simple (wet/dry, naked/clothed, technology/primitive) and Roeg never develops them into anything beyond a superficial language, but they do help to elevate the film above the typical siren fable (mermaids, lady in the lake etc).

In a typical "sirens allegory", it is simply female beauty which poses a deadly threat to man. In "Walkabout", this threat is expanded. The film's not simply about the rapturous beauty of women, but rather the desires of man to conquer, master and possess. Looked at this way, the film can be broken down into clear compartments: man seeks to conquer woman, but fails. Thus, man goes on a "walkabout", a masculine rites of passage to prove his manhood (native boy, scientists etc). Through this rites of passage, man learns to conquer environment, and through this, superiority is gained over woman. Woman submits, man is happy. Only woman does not submit; preternatural and ghostly, she mocks his pretence.

9/10 - Makes a good companion piece to Welles' "F For Fake", Malick's "Days of Heaven" and Altman's "3 Women".
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Oh the 70s...
bowlofsoul234 April 2006
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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seeing walkabout again after 35 years was amazing
healnghanz16 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
what is life changing about this film is you get to experience the life of an aborigine in his natural environment. with no help from anything except the land itself and thousands of years of culture behind him, he hunts lizards and kangaroos with handmade spears straightened by his teeth. he drinks water right out of the dirt with a straw stuck in the mud. its amazing. and it changes you. you see as if for the first time, the power and the credibility of what the native aborigine represents. he doesn't need clothes, or money. he just needs to be a part of his world, which he is at total peace with. what could be more sane than that.

juxtaposed against a father taking his children out for a picnic in the bush who cracks up and commits suicide, leaving his children stranded. in their innocence they actually do pretty well for themselves, coming upon an oasis, but it dries up the next day. thats when the aborigine arrives.

the children see him as a life saver and even though they don't speak the same language, the little boy in his desperation points to his mouth and says glug glug glug and the aborigine laughs hysterically and goes back to the dried up oasis and starts sucking water out of the ground with a straw, then gives them a drink.

so begins the journey where the children learn the ways of the aborigine. but they are not aborigine. they are very Australian, at least the girl is. eventually the aborigine brings them closer and closer to civilization, which seems absolutely barbaric by comparison. the aborigine does not kill for sport, and he uses everything and takes nothing more than he needs. the Australians, kill for the enjoyment of killing. finally the aborigine sees a road and touches it with his foot, he sees a steer and tries to kill it but is almost run over by some white hunters, who kill just to leave the animals rot.

this vision of depravity so terribly affects the aborigine, so devastates him that he goes almost mad. he returns back to the hut that he brought the girl to, possibly out of his love for her, and he dances a dance of desire for her. the girl gets scared and starts to hide from him in the shack. you get the real sense of houses containing shadows that cut people off from the direct experience of one another that they had when they were out in the wilderness under the stars.

he dances and dances, but she ignores him, rebuffs his gentle advances. she falls asleep and the next day the boy finds that the aborigine is not moving. he is up in a tree, apparently dead.

the girl and boy make their way back to civilization, which is horrifying. the movie abruptly ends with the girl older now thinking back to the time she had in the wilderness.

i am not giving this movie justice. just suffice to say it breaks your heart. you feel the loss of the aborigine. the impact is tremendous because this is real. he lost so much. yet the world doesn't seem to care. why in gods name cant we care about what we have done to the people who have given us the gift of showing us how to live in harmony with nature. happy. without doubt. full of joy. we cannot improve on this. man living in harmony with nature is perfection. what can we say about our own civilization, filled with suffering and people preying upon each other. our world is hell compared with what the aborigine has in his hands, or had. we made sure that our misery became his misery.

as the earth is used up this movie is more and more relevant. but we have become so crippled we cant even cry for what has gone, never to return. what a loss! Why don't we see it? the innocence is gone. we killed it. we killed it. we killed it.
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Staggering in its vision and scope, but not very emotional...
moonspinner556 September 2005
Cinematographer Nicolas Roeg turned first-time director here with a highly visceral and thought-provoking film about two Australian city children stranded in the hot, dusty Outback. They meet a young Aborigine and hope he will lead them back to civilization. Lots of artistic shots of insects and extreme closeups of fascinating reptiles have convinced people this must be a masterpiece (funny, Randal Kleiser's "The Blue Lagoon" had similar shots, and no one praises that!). The story exposition is rather muffled, and the finale is pretentious, but Jenny Agutter certainly gives the film a boost (her beauty is astonishing, especially in a memorable nude swimming scene). Overall, Roeg's position on these characters and their plight feels somewhat indifferent; he's as aloof from them as he is from the audience, and the viewer may walk away feeling they were abandoned as well. **1/2 from ****
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Classic Coming-of-Age Drama Set in the Australian Outback
l_rawjalaurence14 November 2014
WALKABOUT is quite simply a stunning cinematic experience. Directed and photographed by Nicolas Roeg, it tells of an English schoolgirl (Jenny Agutter) and her brother (Lucien John) getting lost in the Australian outback, and encountering an Aborigine (David Gulpilil), who looks after them and ensures their survival. In an opening title-card Roeg tells us that a "walkabout" is an aboriginal ritual whereby young men leave their families and set out on their own to discover themselves as well as prove their masculinity. In this film all three adolescents are in a sense on "walkabout": while the Aborigine learns to hunt for himself as well as provide nourishment for the other two, the schoolgirl learns to divest herself of her Englishness, as well as her inhibitions, as she swims naked in a rock-pool. Her brother sets aside his worldly toys and learns how to gather leaves, as well as pick up some phrases in Aborigine language so as to be able to communicate successfully.

Roeg sets this coming-of-age story within the larger theme of the destruction of the natural landscape by humankind. The film opens on the streets of Sydney, choked with cars and box-like apartments; this contrasts starkly with the wide open expanses of the outback where the sun shines pitilessly all day, and both human beings and animals have to learn how to eke out an existence as best they can. This they achieve partly by cunning and partly by making use of natural resources; by civilized standards, they might seem primitive (for example, the Aborigine's wooden spear) but they are stunningly effective. Brought up in the genteel tradition of public (in American, private) schools, the girl and her brother find the Aborigine's behavior rather distasteful at times, but gradually they learn how to adopt his mores.

Yet the Aboriginal way of life, just like the life of the animals that people the outback, is under threat. This is emphasized through a series of violent juxtapositions and stop-frames, as white hunters come in their Land-Rovers armed with shotguns and kill anything that moves indiscriminately. They gut and skin the corpses, leaving the skeletons to rot in the burning sun, infested with maggots. Roeg makes a powerful point by juxtaposing such sequences with more mundane images of a butcher in a city shop cutting meat for customers, as if to remind us of where our weekly meat actually comes from. The film ends with a similar image as the schoolgirl, now unhappily married to a respectable white Australian, is shown cutting meat on a chopping-board while her husband prattles on about his latest promotion at work.

The film contains some stunning visual images: the sight of the Aborigine shadowed against the setting sun reminds us of his intimate connection to the land. An aerial pan of the rock-pools, showing the schoolgirl swimming naked (not without a certain amount of scopophilic desire on the director's part) shows how she has happily cast off the trappings of civilization and returned to nature. A long shot of the girl and her brother trying to climb a mountain reminds us of human insignificance in this vast and deserted landscape. And finally, at the end of the film, the three youngsters are shown happily bathing once again the rock pool, all of them naked, all enjoying themselves without a shred of racial or sexual prejudice. This image offers us a glimpse of what could be, if only we were to set aside our perception of (culturally constructed) differences.

Even after forty years, WALKABOUT communicates a powerful message to audiences about the importance of communal living as the source of social and moral harmony. A true classic.
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Almost a "desert island" film
greenpyro695 April 2005
This film is on my list of must-see movies. It contains breathtaking cinematography. The subject matter of the movie forces us to confront differences between the modern world and the primitive world; yet it underscores similarities between the two cultures. There are also some very nice techniques used in this film - for example the screen wipes used as the small boy relates a story to the older boy. A thought provoking film shot from, and that looks at the world from, a perspective that is rarely seen in cinema. It's good enough that I'd seriously consider it to be included on a short list of films that I'd be allowed to have if stranded on a desert island.
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Typically tedious Roeg film.
gridoon24 February 2003
This is one of those "art for art's sake" films that were so popular in the 70's (Roeg's "Don't Look Now" is another). Tedious pacing (meant to be "deliberate"), obscure editing tricks (meant to be "inventive"), TERRIBLE, confusing storytelling (meant to be "elliptical"), poorly defined characters (meant to be "symbolic"), in an allegory that probably only Roeg himself understands fully, yet it has people writing (quite eloquent) essays on it. At least the images are beautiful - but then again, how difficult is it really to make a tree or a lake or a sunset look beautiful? (*)
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Breathtaking portrayal of the duality of humanity
fiuwriter25 March 2001
Warning: Spoilers
---Some Spoilers Ahead---

This film is simply fantastic. Nicolas Roeg's direction is stellar. At some point in the film, he realizes that the characters and story line take a life of their own and opts for an approach to the film's cinematography(Keep in mind before directing, Roeg was a cinematographer)that is stunning. This film is interesting on other levels as well. While the story may seem simplistic, there are many layers to the film's message. One is a linguistical approach. The film examines language barriers, yet it portrays a boy that hasn't been indoctrinated into social norms. He transcends this, and has no problems adapting to the aborigine's culture. There is a racial layer attached to this film as well. We see that the aborigine boy, who is tall, handsome, and black, will never be accepted by the socially indoctrinated English girl. His unwanted romantic overtures are what leads him to commit suicide. The film makes a brilliant commentary on 'civilized' societies corrupt and dacaying ways in the scene where the boy and girl come out of the wilderness and their first glimpse of civilization are ruins of twisted, industrial machines left to rot in the boundaries of where the outback and civilization meet. There are so many great things in this film, I would need to write a book just to cover them all. This is a must see for any person that enjoys thought provoking, intense, adventurous film.
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Great wildlife; unlikely plot
esh0467622 October 2004
Right from the beginning with the choice of a picnic site in the middle of an arid plain followed by a suicide and a burning auto, there were many unbelievable occurrences in this film, which seems to have some sort of "classic" status. The two "children" (Agutter is a beautiful young woman) pick up their belongings and trudge off into the outback, without showing any particular distress over these horrific events. One wonders how in the world these young people manage to emerge from their wilderness adventure with school uniforms still fresh . Such things bother this reviewer. Also what was the point of having the bit about the scientific expedition with the one beautiful woman being ogled by the men? The picture's thesis about corrupt civilization and the superiority of the natural man has been already stated. I found many similarly gratuitous elements in Walkabout (1971), but the photography and the wildlife were great.
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The Vision of the Detached Observer
tedg20 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Roeg wave of angst. A great many films are incompetent, so I have my own private parade when I run across one that has a coherent vision and the skill or artistry to make that vision real. This is such. At the end of my parade starts the encounter group I have with my different selves over whether to accept that vision, to enter and inhabit that world.

Many of my selves are attracted to Roeg's world. This is a film about the problems of film, about peering into a different world using pure vision. Good. And he uses an all- too-common mode for representing such engagement: sexual attraction. Self-awareness as sexual awareness, and that self-awareness of the character folded into the self- awareness of the viewer and his/her position as distant.

Parts of me point out the novel slant on this: interesting plots that are artificially twisted around this notion of separate worlds peering at each other. Other parts celebrate the amazing efficiency and richness of the visual grammar.

Where I have problems is the reduction of the grand universe of engagement to the limited playground of sexual obsession. Here and in "Man Who Fell" we have this conceit. When I saw this in 71, I thought it was a cool conflation, because I was part of a whole social movement that made the same mapping.

Thirty years later that seems thin, even dangerously, addictively sophomoric.

You, dear viewer, may not have the same legacy and need to so aggressively reject this mapping. It may be simply a convenient narrative device. In which case, this will be a fine experience for you.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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The most compelling visual and dramatic masterpiece ever.
aayoung5 May 2002
In 50 years of seeing movies, nothing has affected me like Roeg's Walkabout. If you have ever dreamed of running off and living in the wilderness, this film is for you.

The landscape of the Australian outback is the real star of this beautiful film. It must be seen on the big screen to be enjoyed properly. Just wonderful cinematography, outdoors--no special effects (except for a unique "storybook" sequence, the like of which I've never seen anywhere), no lighting. The astonishing beauty goes on and on; I can never get tired of looking at it.

On top of that, the story is moving and memorable. Two very proper, white, schoolchildren get lost in the outback, and encounter an aborigine youth who is on a solo walkabout, an adolescent rite of passage. Relying on their new friend for survival skills--an interesting relationship without any language in common--they have to follow his long trek. Naturally, the trip becomes a rite of passage for the white kids, too.

The story points up how completely we have lost our sense of place by our addiction to the artifices of civilization. A portable radio, tuned to an educational station, provides the only source of "civilized" information to the youths--its conspicuous irrelevance to their actual life an ironic commentary.

The way the lost kids ultimately find their way back to civilization is not dramatic--but the way their return affects their native guide is a real shock. And that seems to be the climax; but there's a further kick in a deliberate anti-climax, forcing us to dwell on the sense of loss that is entailed in the return to civilization.

"Excellent" is not a good enough rating for this movie. To me, it is absolutely transcendent, virtually in a class by itself.
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post colonial angst
hellenicabella2 November 2003
I saw this movie because I saw "Rabbit Proof Fence" and wanted to see more films featuring David Gulpilil. He didn't disappoint in this film either - he has an incredible presence on screen.

This film comments on so many racial and cultural issues in Australia, and in a way that's so subtle that it unnerves you with you knowing why - I haven't read the book its based on, so I can't comment on whether it stems from there.

Two English kids (Jenny Agutter and Lucien John) are taken from their comfortable home in what seems to be Sydney (the harbour bridge is visible in one shot) and taken into outback South Australia by their father (John Meillon), and no explanation is made for this. (Outback SA is MILES away from Sydney, yet they still have their school uniforms on. Why?). The girls sets up a picnic, the boy plays with his water pistol, and suddenly their father starts shooting at them. They escape, and his voice calling after them is especially chilling, but when they don't materialise, he shoots himself and sets fire to the car. The girl knows, and keeps it from the boy. She gives him lemonade and tells him to look after his school blazer and shoes.

They're doomed from the beginning - no water, no way of finding their way home. They discover a water hole and fruit tree and camp there, but by morning, the fruit and water are gone - we can only assume its a metaphor for the way Australian settlers ruined their ecosystem. They are rescued from almost certain death by a young aboriginal man (David Gulpilil) on 'walkabout', a coming-of-age ritual. He appears to live a completely 'tribal' existence in that he walks mostly naked and hunts his own food, and can't speak english. The only one able to communicate with him is the english boy, because he's an innocent, not yet corrupted by civilisation as his sister has been.

The aboriginal boy leads them to eventual safely, and finds a friend in the other boy. The girl, however, treats the aboriginal boy like a servant and is afraid of him. When they reach safety, the boy dances a tribal dance for them and they don't understand why.

The scene where they last see the boy in the tree is especially chilling - the coldness of the girl, and her complete lack of sadness over it. Its as if she's happy to be safe and that's it, and the aboriginal boy has outlived his usefulness. Which is why the final scene, of the girl looking back at an innocent memory of the three of them swimming naked together, doesn't fit.

But, maybe civilisation and order is what we cling to in times of adversity, but when we're in it, its a cage.
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Skip it.. just skip it!
TimTamSam10 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers

After hearing so many good things about this movie, and also finding out that just about every review I could find on it gave it glowing remarks, I anticipated seeing the director's cut of this movie on DVD.

I mean, what wasn't to like? Jenny Agutter (sic), a beautiful actress also from Logan's Run & American Werewolf in London... David Gulpilil who you can see in the US in Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Unfortunately I came away very disappointed. Part of me could not appreciate the style that Roeg filmed it. It's one of those movies that you hear was groundbreaking at the time, but watching it 30 years later, you feel it just didn't age well.

I'll give it this.. the stars of the movie did a fine job, and as I read once, it was almost like they were not acting..


Watching the movie, there are many many many many cuts away from the primaries, to see closeups of ants, slugs, bees, snakes, lizards, scorpions, etc.. etc.. etc.. After the 40th time, I actually said out loud "Okay.. I GET IT! THEY ARE IN THE OUTBACK!!" As if all the sand, dirt and isolation DIDNT already give that away.

What I found most odd was what the professional reviewers called the 'sexual tension.' Let me start by saying Im no prude, nor am I always against your gratuitous nudity, but... the camera just seemed to love Jenny's crotch, and undies.. even before they came across the Aboriginal boy and the 'tension'. At the watering hole, it made special point of watching her put her undies back on.

Later you have several other nude scenes, including through the water crotch scenes of Jenny as she just, for whatever reason, decides to take a nude swim in a pond.. a scene where she is changing, or just sitting around an abandoned farm house topless when she finds out the aboriginal boy is watching and quickly puts her top back on. To the end where the movie where she flashes back to this time later in live when the three kids decided to have a nice nude swim together.

Again, she's supposed to be like 15 years old. I felt like Pete Townshend, and that the cops were going to bust me for just watching this.
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Incomprehensible and pointless
aldin-8639712 August 2016
Apparently I watched this movie with a distinct disadvantage: I wasn't stoned.

I can come up with plenty of adjectives to explain my dislike for it: incoherent, random, plot less, exploitative, amateurish.

I have questions too:

How did the car get to what looks like outback Northern Territory or Western Australia from Sydney with the lunch still packed and fresh and the two children still dressed in pristine school uniforms.

Why are the children dressed in pristine school uniforms when they've accompanied weird old' dad to the outback??

Why are we okay with the child nudity and sexual content in this film? Is it because it's "art"? Or because it's a "classic"?

Why is every single white person in it weird or sociopathic?

Why do random characters like the weather research people appear for no other reason than to release a balloon?

How did this movie attract funding?
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sorry, but Nicolas Roeg is not a good director
tbyrne427 November 2010
Did you ever someone who is intelligent and well-spoken but who just won't stop talking. And the more he talks the less sense he makes, and yet he speaks so eloquently and with such style that you feel compelled to listen, even though the headache growing in your brain screams at you to run away. That's a lot like Nicolas Roeg's films. And that's a lot like "Walkabout". Beautifully shot, very stylish, and yet so...soooo vague. One vague scene drifting into another. One ponderous moment oozing into the next. As it just goes on and on and on...and the buzzing in your head gets louder and louder.

I've encountered this with Roeg's films before, to greater and lesser degrees. I am aware of the beauty of what's on the screen and of Roeg's talent, but I can't get past this feeling that he doesn't really want to make a film that's about anything. And the ponderousness of the stories becomes oppressive.

"Walkabout" is supposedly a classic. I admit it has very good cinematography. And Jenny Agutter is lovely, but beyond that I don't see a lot else. The whole nature vs. technology metaphor is so pounded into the viewer's skull you want to scream "all right!! I get it!! I get it!!" And Roeg is the king of mixed signals (not in a good way, either), as in one scene we get shot after shot of the aborigine teen slaying animals intercut with full frontal nude shots of sixteen-year old Jenny swimming around while muzak plays (???) That nonsense of showing beauty/slaughter intercut was old by 1969, so Roeg was not doing anything new.

Honestly, I would avoid this movie. It's just frustrating. If you want to watch something good, check out some of the films of Donald Cammell (who co-directed "Performance" with Roeg), he is less well-known, but was a far superior director.
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