- Walkabout (film)
name = Walkabout
caption = Film poster of "Walkabout"
Edward Bond James Vance Marshall(novel)
Jenny Agutter Luc Roeg David Gulpilil
music = John Barry
20th Century Fox
runtime = 100 min.
country = AUS
language = English
budget = AUD 1,000,000 (estimated)
amg_id = 1:115855
imdb_id = 0067959
"Walkabout" is a
1971British film set in Australia. Loosely based on the novel by James Vance Marshall, it was written by Edward Bondand directed by Nicolas Roeg, and earned Roeg a nomination for the Palme d'Oraward. [cite web
title = Feature Films in Competition (1971)
Cannes Film Festival
url = http://www.festival-cannes.com/index.php/en/archives/films/year/1971
accessdate = 2008-02-17 ] Film critic
Roger Ebertcalled it "one of the great films".cite web
last = Ebert
first = Roger
authorlink = Roger Ebert
title = Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg
The Criterion Collection
url = http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=10&eid=25§ion=essay1
accessdate = 2008-02-17 ]
A high school girl played by
Jenny Agutterand her much younger brother played by Luc Roeg, are seen walking home across the urban landscape of Sydney, Australia. Their father, a geologist, drives them far into the outback, where they stop for a picnic. Suddenly, he begins shooting at them, and when they run behind rocks for cover, he sets the car on fire and kills himself. The girl conceals what has happened from her brother; runs back to get the tablecloth, a can of fruit, and the transistor radio; and rushes off into the desert with him.
They spend a night sleeping on rocks in the mountains and climbing high ridges, and when they see the sea, they begin trekking toward it. But by dawn, they are weak from exposure, and the boy can barely walk. Discovering a small pool with a fruiting tree they spend the day playing, bathing, and resting. Next morning, the pool has dried up. A young indigenous Australian boy (
David Gulpilil) appears, and though the girl can't communicate with him, her brother mimes their need for water, and the boy cheerfully shows them how to draw it from the drying bed of the oasis.
They travel together for several days, the indigenous boy sharing food he's caught hunting. Wordlessly, they become friends, playing with and caring for one another. He decorates the siblings with colored mud and listens to their radio while they sleep. The boys begin to communicate, using words and pantomime. The indigenous boy and the girl notice each others' bodies, and at one point, while he is hunting, she swims naked in a deep pool, perhaps unaware that her brother has seen her.
A change of scene shows a research team in a hot desert, all the men attracted to the only woman. One of them carelessly loses a weather balloon, which is later found by the three youths. In some versions of the film, one scene depicts a woman walking past the indigenous boy, speaking to him, and spotting the other children. They do not see her, however, and when the boy doesn't reply, she continues walking over a ridge to a plantation. A white man is seen roughly directing a group of indigenous children who are making plaster statuettes and other things. He calls a break and enters a room where a woman awaits him on a bed.
The older boy guides the siblings to a farm. It turns out to be deserted. As the girl explores its rooms, he becomes sullen. He discovers a paved road while collecting sticks in the forest, and excitedly shows the brother. Soon afterward, he hunts down a buffalo and is wrestling it to the ground when two white hunters nearly run him over in a truck. He sees them shoot several buffalo with a rifle. Striding without a word past the girl at the house, he is next seen lying in a field of bones; he is painted with white mud. He returns to the house, catching the girl dressing. He pursues her through the rooms with an intense, silent dance. Her brother returns, and though the older boy dances outside all day and into the night, when he stumbles with exhaustion, the siblings cannot understand its meaning. They fall asleep nearby.
In the morning, the brother wakes his sister and tells her the boy is gone. After they wash and dress in their full school uniforms, the brother tells her the boy is dead and takes her to his body, hanging in a mango tree. The child doesn't fully understand death, attempting to offer the body his pen-knife. Before leaving, the girl wipes ants from the boy's chest.
Hiking up the road, the siblings soon find a nearly defunct mining town, where they are met by a surly man who tells them of a place they can stay. They play at the abandoned mine-head, throwing rocks against rusty old machinery.
Finally, back in the city and years later, a businessman comes home to the sister, now his wife. While he relates office gossip, she daydreams, imagining a scene in which she, her brother, and the indigenous boy are playing and swimming naked in the deep pool in the outback.
The film was produced from a minimal 14-page screenplay by English playwright Edward Bond. It was based very loosely on the novel, in which the children are Americans stranded by a plane crash and after the indigenous boy finds and leads them to safety he dies of a case of Influenza contracted from them.
Nicolas Roeg, a British filmmaker, brought an outsider's eye and interpretation to the Australian setting, and improvised greatly during filming; he has commented that "We didn’t really plan anything—we just came across things by chance…filming whatever we found."cite web
author= Fiona Harma
work= The Oz Film Database
publisher= Murdoch University]
The director's son, Luc Roeg, played the younger boy in the film.
Criterion CollectionDVD release of the film is billed as the "original, unedited director’s cut". [cite web
title = Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg
The Criterion Collection
url = http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=10
accessdate = 2008-02-17 ]
The poem read at the end of the film is "Poem 40" from A.E. Houseman's "
A Shropshire Lad".
Jenny Agutteras "Girl"
* Luc Roeg as "White Boy" (credited as Lucien John)
David Gulpililas "Black Boy"
* Robert McDara
* Pete Carver
* John Illingsworth
* Hilary Bamberger
* Barry Donnelly
* Carlo Mancini
Reception and Interpretation
"Walkabout" fared poorly at the box office in Australia, meeting critical debate about whether it could be considered an Australian film and whether it was an embrace or a reaction to the country's cultural and natural context.
The film is an example of Roeg's well-defined directorial style, characterized by strong visual composition from his experience as a
cinematographercombined with extensive cross-cuttingand the juxtaposition of events, location, or environments to build his themes. [cite web
author= Chuck Kleinhans
title= Nicholas Roeg--Permutations without profundity
publisher= Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
accessdate=2008-02-17 ] This use of
intellectual montagecreates symbolism by juxtaposing two shots that are not literally connected; for example, in one scene the Aboriginal boy is seen killing and dismembering a kangaroo, interrupted by several brief clips of a butcher at work in his shop.
The film is heavily interspersed with images of Australian plant and animal life, along with its varied landscapes. The director often uses those images to emphasize events in the plot and set the emotional tone, most notably during the violent scene involving the rifle hunters. Though many of the events are impossible in a natural setting--in one scene a wombat wanders past the sleeping children in the middle of a desert--they create a backdrop of a populous, varied environment. In "Walkabout", an analysis of the film, author Louis Nowra wrote
"...I was stunned. The images of the Outback were of an almost hallucinogenic intensity. Instead of the desert and bush being infused with a dull monotony, everything seemed acute, shrill, and incandescent. The Outback was beautiful and haunting." 
Film Critic Edward Guthmann also notes the strong use of exotic natural images, calling them a "chorus of lizards". 
Roger Ebertwrites that the film contains little moral or emotional judgment of its characters, and ultimately is a portrait of isolation in proximity:
"Is it a parable about noble savages and the crushed spirits of city dwellers? That’s what the film’s surface suggests, but I think it’s about something deeper and more elusive: the mystery of communication."
Commenting on its enduring appeal, in 1998 Roeg described the film as:
"…a simple story about life and being alive, not covered with sophistry but addressing the most basic human themes; birth, death, mutability." 
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