Criterion // 1971 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // May 18th, 2010
A boy and girl face the challenge of the world's last frontier. Dangers they had never known before...A people they had never seen before...
Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout is famously referred to as "Just about the most different film you'll ever see." It is, and it isn't. You'll just have to watch this extraordinary film about the human condition to understand.
A young girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg) find themselves stranded in the Australian outback following a suicidal and homicidal breakdown by their father (John Meillon, Crocodile Dundee). The pair wander the desolate landscape aimlessly until they run into a young Aborigine boy (David Gulpilil, Mad Dog Morgan) on his "walkabout." Despite not being able to communicate verbally, the unlikely trio proceed to travel together symbiotically until a return to civilization beckons.
There are many things going on in Walkabout. On the surface, the film is a simple adventure/coming-of-age story told via stunning cinematography. A girl and a boy get themselves lost, are saved by an Aborigine, experience nature, and return home all the wiser. Case closed, or is it? Not at all, of course.
Walkabout reveals many truths about the human condition. The main subject is, perhaps, the power of communication (both verbal, non-verbal, and even self-communication), which is discussed by Roger Ebert in his review of the film. Communication is essential for people because we are social beings. However, we don't always understand each other at all, which can lead to problems, but we can also understand each other all too well to the same effect.
Further, non-verbal communication can be far more powerful than verbal in many, possibly a majority of, situations. For example, what is more memorable and effective, saying "I don't like you," or punching someone in the face? The film illustrates this numerous times, most forcefully through the girl's reaction to the Aborigine boy's ritualistic courtship dance in the finale. She knows what he's doing and is afraid. She's not afraid of the boy (after all, the boy saved her life while her father tried to kill her), but of the knowledge that she's growing up, cultural expectations, and that she may actually like him and the possible consequences of that affection.
I think the message regarding the significance of communication is probably more relevant in today's environment where we are bombarded with meaningless words (written and spoken) around the clock. We have learned to ignore most of the people we see through the course of a day because we have no relationship with them (aside from being from the same species). Indeed, I would venture that a message of the film, through its different presentations of relationships in urban and natural environments, is that modern society has robbed of us, or numbed, our ability to appreciate, interpret and understand any type of communication. That is, our physical dislocation from nature has led to some sort of deeper corruption of our being, to the extent that even our ability for self-knowledge is compromised severely.
The newly restored digital transfer is an improvement from the previous Criterion edition. There are still some imperfections, but the color and detail are strong. This is a visually beautiful film. The mono audio is similarly strong. While there is very little dialogue in the film, there is a lot of sound and music. All of it comes through without compromise.
The extras, spread across 2-discs, are the same as those on the Blu-Ray release: commentary with Roeg and Agutter (recorded separately), a trailer, separate interviews Agutter and Luc Roeg, the documentary "One Red Blood" about the life and career of Gulpilil, and a booklet with an essay by Paul Ryan. The interviews give some interesting facts about experiences during the production of the film. Both Roeg and Agutter also make passing references to the hard life of David Gulpilil. So, it should be of no surprise that the relatively gritty documentary is the most interesting by far. Despite his mainstream success, Gulpilil has led an anything but glamorous life. It's also worth watching to see him display his contempt for Crocodile Dundee.
The one "problem" with the film is the dated techniques. Roeg has a brilliant eye and knows how to cut scenes better than anyone, just watch Don't Look Now. However, in some cases, the overlays, wipes, and cuts in Walkabout are just the product of the some of the tacky moviemaking styles of the 1970s; they are simply superfluous and don't serve the story, imagery or atmosphere of the film.
Walkabout is an unconventional film with important observations on human nature. It is well worth watching.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated