Movie Review: Walkabout (1971)

Title: Walkabout
Release Date: July 1, 1971
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Production Company: Max L. Raab-Si Litvinoff Films

A father (John Meillon) from Sydney takes his teenage daughter (Jenny Agutter) and 6-year-old son (Luc Roeg) to the Australian outback for a picnic, but instead tries to murder them.  Failing to do that, he instead sets fire to the family car and kills himself.  The siblings must survive in the wilderness with limited food and water, and no protection from the sun. Eventually they gain aid from a teenage Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who shares the food he has hunted. The characters are given no names in the film so going forward I will refer to them by the actors’ names.

The movie depicts the contrasts between the “civilized” world of Westernized cities with the traditional lifestyles of the Aboriginal people.  Then there is Nature which cares for neither civilization or traditions but is a threat to all.  Director Nicolas Roeg takes advantage of quick cuts between scenes of the city and scenes of the outback, and has almost a nature documentarians’ eyes for the landscapes and the many creatures that populate it.  Communication is also a theme, as the older Jenny seems to trained in being “proper” to connect with David, but Luc comes up a way of signing their needs.  For Jenny, this also a coming of age film as she is taking responsibility for her brother while also experiencing a sexual stirring. The movie is a bit creepy in the way the camera has a “male gaze” on Jenny’s body particularly in a scene where she swims naked in a lake.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this movie and several people say it has no plot.  But as a tale of survival, it has one of the most basic literary plots of Humanity Versus Nature, and it’s one that’s not fully resolved at the films conclusion.  I’ve also seen comments that the movie’s themes are too obviously an allegory, but since none of them seem to agree what it’s an allegory for, that can’t be correct either. The ambiguity, I think, is actually one of the things that makes this movie great. I also liked best how Roger Ebert noted that that the film’s structure reflects the Aboriginal understanding of time as less linear than that of Western civilization.

All told this is a remarkable film and one I’ll want to revisit.

Rating: ****1/2