Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 Australian Outback treatise is, essentially, a film of juxtapositions. As such, it has a tendency to fall into what one would have to call a bit of the obvious, but it still holds a tremendously absorbing visual authority.
One of the broadest such juxtapositions is between “modern” life (ie. City-dwelling), with its cacophony of radio/TV, car exhaust, soulless buildings and pointless existence; and the desert of the Outback, where aborigine tribes still survive by the grace of their physical prowess and varied survival skills. One such aborigine boy (David Gulpilil), recently sent out to live in the desert by himself for several months (the ‘walkabout’ of the title), comes across an English sister (Jenny Agutter) and her young brother (Luc Roeg, the director’s son), whose father (John Meillon), has just committed suicide, leaving his two school-age children to fend for themselves. The three of them then form a loose-knit group, with the aborigine doing all the hunting and gathering, and the Anglos more or less hanging on for dear life.
Roeg, who started his career as a DP, uses his formidable camera skills to brilliant effect, showcasing a wild, natural world that is captivatingly beautiful, even as white people have begun to encroach upon it. Many shots of the native lizards, birds and marsupials are set against the image of the two white children, still dressed in their respective school blazers, stomping piteously through the harsh desert. Eventually, of course, the white kids adapt to the natural world around them under the guidance of their aborigine friend — a primeval accommodation with our original selves.
If the film has a drawback (other than the rampant hunting and killing of animals that might turn away more sensitive viewers), it’s the way in which Roeg continuously hammers the film’s themes into your psyche. By the time the kids come across more modern civilization again, Roeg has essentially left no stone unturned in pointing out the hopelessly pointless way in which white society has alienated itself from the natural world. The filmmaker, who would go on to make a career out of being esoteric and unfathomable, comes across as all-too-ready to belabor his message.
This beautiful BD transfer is also enhanced by some timely extras, including recent interviews with the two white stars of the film, audio commentaries from Roeg and Agutter, an hour-long doc on actor David Gulpilil and an essay from writer Paul Ryan.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.comand his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.