In his early career, English filmmaker Nicolas Roeg was responsible for some of the greatest films never talked about.
Roeg’s 1973 psychic thriller Don’t Look Now is one of the best in the entire history of the thriller genre and his 1976 science fiction film The Man Who Fell From Earth featured David Bowie in one of the genre’s most surreal films of the time.
But quite possibly the most intriguing and best film from Roeg is his first feature film, Walkabout. The film, which tells the harrowing tale of a young girl (Jenny Agutter) and her even younger brother (Luc Roeg), who after experience a strange and bizarre string of events, struggle to survive in the Australian outback until they meet an Aboriginal boy in the middle of his ceremonial walkabout where he must spend six months living in the outback.
If you’re familiar with Australian cinema in the early 1970’s, you know that the landscape of film was beginning to be filled with toxic and outlandish exploitation films that sometimes didn’t portray themselves in great light. Drunken, unfriendly and strange are three common adjectives that could be used to describe a common Australian male. Just watch the classic film Wake in Fright for an example.
But in comparison what’s so intriguing about the depiction of Australia in Walkabout is how the entire film is a Englishman’s perspective of the Australian outback and people. Both the filmmaker himself and the two young main characters are English. And for an outsiders approach the representation is fairly docile and hardly stereotypical, showing Roeg took care with his limited characters.
What really sucks you in as an outside viewing party are the nearly hallucinogenic images of the Australian outback. Coupled with a story of survival, Roeg’s stunning and beautiful photography in this sometimes absolutely silent film tells the story worth telling. It’s a simplistic film and proof of that is in the fact that the screenplay written by Edward Bond reached only 14 pages, a product of the communication barrier between the English girl and boy and the Aboriginal boy.
Roeg even went on record to say that he shot the film on a partially improvised basis. With only 14 pages of dedicated dialogue and action and an entire Australian outback to work with, there certainly was some flexibility in what was shot and what was left in the film.
While Roeg’s picturesque cinematography is something to be gazed at without blinking, it isn’t the only thing worth getting giddy over. Roeg is not only a using the camera to show how dangerous and vast the outback is, but also to express a story filled with cultural and social commentary.
At certain moments in the film, such as the Aboriginal boy hunting, killing and cooking food necessary for survival, Roeg intersplices footage of a butcher slicing away at raw meat. The outcome is the strong comparison in how similar yet distant the two processes of food preparation are, with the boy’s method being a savage action and the butcher’s being a way of life.
The entire journey is also cause for comparison. While the girl and boy are completely out of their element, terrified and struggling to survive, an Aboriginal boy in the same situation is taking part in a ceremony rite of passage, hoping to become a man. These comparisons are simply the brink of the wealth of themes Roeg throws into the picture through a minimalistic 14 page screenplay and stunning photography.
Words alone can’t help anyone appreciate the treasure that is Walkabout. It’s a captivating, meaningful and simply entrancing film of 110 minutes and sits as one of the greatest films of its kind and a masterpiece in its own right.