Walkabout (1971)

Walkabout (1971), directed and photographed by Nicolas Roeg.

A film fan favorite. Gorgeous photography, fine natural performances by the three young leads, and a story that sticks in the mind and won't leave. It's been on my Blu-ray "must have" list from day one.

After their father becomes murderously insane, the Girl and her young brother, still in their school uniforms, are lost in the Australian outback. They have no survival skills and after a few days are in bad shape. A nice young man on his walkabout picks them up and takes care of them. He is entirely at home in the wilderness.

Although the Black Boy is considerate of the Girl, sexual tensions will inevitably build between young people. He courts her according to his customs but she isn't having it. Maybe it's race, maybe it's because he seems alien, but most likely it is just too soon. It's a tragedy.

In later years she remembers that time differently, imagining scenes of perfect innocence that never happened. She was in Paradise and left it. I think everyone has had the experience of not knowing when you are happy until long afterwards when there is no going back. The closing epigram is from A Shropshire Lad:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

The film is composed of striking contrasts. Wide vistas of desert passing through canyons that look like ruined cities, down to grains of sand and the ants and maggots that devour all dead things. Despite it's loveliness and themes of purity it is a lizard-eat-lizard world, red in tooth and claw. Much hunting and killing and butchering, none of it faked.

The contrasts are sometimes heavy handed. Roeg hits the noble savage vs corrupt white civilization theme again and again.

A famous sequence (sometimes censored) has Jenny Agutter, age 16, swimming naked in a rocky pool. Any concupiscent interest this would have is tempered when the director intercuts animals being speared and hacked to pieces. This must symbolize...something.

Other segments intrude: a scientific expedition and a plaster works settlement. I'm not sure why we have them other than to contrast their lascivious vulgarity with the simple life of our young people.

Lush John Barry score, with strangely appropriate children's choir and electronic effects. And lots of didgeridoo.

Criterion Blu-ray, which replaces their 4:3 letterboxed DVD. There appears to be a problem with the disc on some players. It works on the OPPO players.

Now I want Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) on Blu-ray. (Later: got it!)