Nicolas Roeg’s (Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth) first solo directorial effort is a hallucinatory trip through the Australian outback, a shockingly brutal journey through a land some would call a kind of Eden. A teenage girl and her young brother are on picnic with their father when dear old Dad goes bonkers, shooting up the place. He torches their car and puts a bullet in his head. The siblings survive unscathed, but this is just the beginning.
Well before cell phones, two urban kids with no real survival instincts to speak of aren’t exactly suited to life in the open Outback. With a bit of luck, they encounter a teenage Aborigine on walkabout. Through pantomime, they manage to communicate their plight and the young native is nice enough to share his food, water, and know-how to help out these “white devils.”
This isn’t some kind of Disney adventure, but rather an exploration and/or denial of burgeoning sexuality. Examples of this can be found in the prolonged skinny dipping montage and the obvious choice to put the main character in a short skirt for the entire movie. The divide between living surrounded by nature or concrete is also a main theme. Roeg’s penchant for stream of consciousness cutaways furthers this point with plenty of close up shots of wildlife to go along with the brick wall/rock face motif.
It’s not important whether these kids make it out of the outback alive or not. Are they losing their innocence, that is the real question. The wonderful epilogue brings this to the forefront when we’re left wondering just that. The film seems to be saying this hellacious journey was really the best thing that could have happened to them. Urban centers are toxic (look what it did to Dad), and their time on walkabout was probably the time of their lives. Roeg seems to see it as a missed opportunity for urban youth.
The inexperienced young actors get the job done, but this is a movie of images and the location photography is gorgeous. While I appreciate the ideas behind the film, the presentation (while beautiful) is a tad too arty for my tastes, but the short run-time means it doesn’t overstay its welcome.