Criterion film a day, day 17: Walkabout and voyeurism in the outback

Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout marks the first time I’ve traveled to the down under in the Criterion Collection. There are other films: Peter Weir seems to be a favorite and both Picnic at Hanging Rock and the Last Wave are featured. But been there, done that, so I went with Walkabout–described by the overly-enthusiastic interm who writes the Hulu blurbs as a “hypnotic masterpiece”. Unless hypnosis is supposed to induce drowsiness, this film is neither hypnotic nor a masterpiece.

Two children are taken deep into the Australian by their father, who, after doing some office work in the car while his kids set up for a picnic, makes the inexplicable decision to start shooting at his children, and after they refuse to come out of hiding, sets the car on fire and shoots himself in the head. After all, it isn’t a good Australian picnic until someone shoots himself and sets the car on fire.

The older daughter recovers quickly–stepping into a parental run for her 8-year-old brother, and they begin walking back towards civilization. It makes sense that someone might delay grieving or hide the trauma for the sake of a younger sibling in such a dangerous situation, but the film barely returns to the father’s tragic hatred of picnics. It is simply an inexplicable and relatively pointless plot device.

This isn’t the only detour the film makes (its apparently based off of a 15-page screenplay). There’s an odd scene with a team of scientists all ogling the one female scientist, who is dressed like a stripper nurse. This is actually a big theme of the film–and the camera often gets distracted with the legs and cleavage of the definitely underage girl in the film. It’s clear that Roeg–who started his career as a cinematographer–is trying to get some point across, but its a lazily executed theme and just seems like the cameraman spent the whole shoot horny and lonely.

After falling asleep, exhausted, at a watering hole, the pair encounter an aboriginal man, presumably on his walkabout, who, though they can’t understand each other, decides to help them. They spend days walking with him as he hunts for them, protects them and they becomes friends of a sort.

Finally, they come across an abandoned farmhouse, and beyond, a road. They spend a few days there, and after the Aboriginal character sees white hunters wantonly shooting water buffalo, the aboriginal gets stereotypically upset. Films like this love to do this, show the native witnessing the destructive pointlessness of the white man. The only thing that was missing from this trope was a single tear trickling down his cheek.

Anyway, he decides to do some sort of mating dance and then dies. That’s how it happens–and it is about as well explained as that.

The siblings make it back to civilization and the film ends with her in an apartment, older, listening to her boyfriend talk about office gossip while she day dreams of the three of them swimming together in the desert.

Parts of this film a beautifully shot, and I didn’t actively dislike it, but it is a flimsy film with a flimsy, environmentalist message carrying with it all the vaguely condescending interest in native culture that films like this tend to have.

It’s not bad–it’s just not great. And I’m not really sure what makes this film significant in the eyes of Criterion.


About Big Adam

A NYC doorman, a community organizer, wannabe ape, sometimes blogger, sometimes writer, always crossword puzzle incompleter, I will ride bicycles with your papa, dance Bhangra with your mama, take you on dates that cost nada.
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