Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Walkabout (1971)

I am a latecomer to the work of Nicholas Roeg. As a scifi fan, "The Man Who Fell To Earth" was a library discovery a year or so ago and was very much enjoyed. In my quest to "understand" 70's film (an era I was only alive for 8 months of), I saw "Performance" a few months ago. And finally, I saw what I consider his best of the three: "Walkabout".

"Walkabout," as its title suggests, is the story of a trip through the outback. The term generally refers to the journey a young aborigine boy makes which leads to manhood; that holds in this case but with the addition of, and emphasis on, a journey taken by an English brother and sister left in the desert to die.

Eschewing names in favor of presences, the film simultaneously reduces and magnifies everything it touches: a lizard on a rock=the sunrise=the glistening buttocks of the native boy as the girl walks behind him. It is all one, all ordinary, and all grand. And all is beautiful, from the aforementioned scenic considerations to Jenny Aguter in her first naked-in-water role. Though far from her last such, this reviewer must nervously conclude that the 16 year old Aguter has never looked so lovely.

The film, being a Roeg work, does not lack confusion for the viewer. Roeg is clearly attempting to juxtapose civilization with nature, modernity with the aboriginal way of life. He does this in wonderfully unsubtle yet somehow not annoying cuts between our protagonists climbing a tree and local aborigines exploring an abandoned car. To name just one example. Other additions are less informative: I am not sure what to make of the weather balloon party or the static noises which sometimes overwhelm the soundtrack.

This confusion recedes in my memory, however, as soon as it's removed. What is left are a handful of breathtaking images, good writing, and a beautiful girl and boy. There is also an emotional puzzle; the girl remains strangely unmoved by the multiple tragedies which confront her. Like me, her later (married) self remembers only the moments of purity spent with her little brother and the strange, though not-so-strange, boy who saves their lives at great cost to himself.

No comments: