23 March 2002 | seandchoi
A very beautiful and mysterious film.
"In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT. This is the story of a 'WALKABOUT'." Thus begins Nicolas Roeg's 1971 debut feature, "Walkabout", one of the most beautiful, mystical, and magical film I've had the privilege of seeing as a filmgoer. Seeing it again recently on the beautiful Criterion edition DVD, I was once more captivated by this film as it slowly worked its magic on me. The "plot" of "Walkabout" is simplicity itself: a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her little brother (the director's son in real life, Lucien John Roeg--billed "Lucien John" on the credits) are stranded on an Australian outback as their father, who took them out for a picnic, suddenly and inexplicably commits suicide. The two of them are thus left wandering by themselves and it looks as if they will die in the vast wilderness--until they encounter an Aborigine boy who is on his "walkabout," an Aborigine rite of passage into manhood. For a time these kids travel together as a trio and the Aborigine's skills in hunting and finding water allow them to survive. And although the girl and her brother will eventually find their way back to civilization, for a brief unspecified length of time the exotic Australian outback becomes a wondrous and mystical place where their story of survival unfolds. If you've seen this film, you know that the brief synopsis above doesn't really touch what is so special about "Walkabout." And that is because "Walkabout" isn't really about plot, like more conventional films. It is one of those rare films like Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock," Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven," and Wim Wender's "Wings of Desire" which are all about evoking a kind of sad and bittersweet emotional response from us. I think that is what "Walkabout" is mostly about. The overall impact of this film "hits you in the heart" and very impressionable viewers might be stirred in their emotions to the point of swooning in the scene at the end where the girl, now a married woman, remembers her idyllic days happily swimming in one of the outback's water holes Nicolas Roeg was not only the director of "Walkabout" but also its cinematographer. And his photography in this film is unbearably beautiful and sumptuous. "Walkabout" is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous color films ever made. Shot on location in the Australian outback--perhaps one of the most exotic places on earth--"Walkabout" has a visual grandeur that is reminiscent of passages from David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and John Ford's "The Searchers." Never has the "voodoo of location shooting" (as Werner Herzog likes to call it) been more manifest than in this film. In fact, the exotic and unique location in which it was shot, coupled with Roeg's masterful cinematography, feels like one of the main characters in "Walkabout." The film's location adds a mystical (almost spiritual) and meditative dimension to it which lingers in the viewer's mind--haunting it long after the film is over. If Roeg's photography is one of the film's main characters, so is John Barry's legendary and justly famous score. Maybe it's the harp used in the score, or the subtle billowing quality of its composition (i.e. the way its beautiful melody gently builds and builds), but the music in this film simply soars. It moves me like no other score I've ever heard. It feels completely transcendent, as if it exists outside time and space altogether--but gently swooping down from time to time, "kissing" this film's images with aching sweetness. All of the above elements work together to form a film-viewing experience that inspires both beauty and awe in us. The film's message is not necessarily that life in the outback is better than life in a modern civilization, but that no matter where you happen to find yourself (even if that happens to be a wilderness like the Australian outback), if you have resources that meet your basic needs, it can become your "home" for a time. And that afterwards there is bitter-sweetness in reminiscing about those "good times" you were fortunate enough to have--to which you can never return again.