WALKABOUT (1971)

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How do we communicate? What exists between the frontiers of languages and gestures that ensures we do not descend into forms of cultural beastiality? And sex, that great equaliser: how do we account for forms of sexuality and the understanding between individuals that, maybe, it is all we have.

Walkabout is about many things. It is a parable, of a kind, a fable about the rubbing together of civilisations. The lack of names within the film encourage us to consider this as a blanket representation society’s reactions to wilderness. It is amazing how alien the gaudy innards of a family home, the accumulations of a life, can seem after merely an hour in the open wilderness. A road appears utterly meaningless. It offers only a sense of familiarity to those who have known roads. To all the others, it must seem an abomination.

The film, truly, does not need to do many things to keep us entranced. The anchor is already there. Roeg simply had to point a camera at it. Flights of dreamlike fancy are rare, yet the purely physical is also wilfully disregarded: the boy is sunburnt, lips are parched, limbs wither and fail, but nowhere do we truly feel the affects of these landscapes. We fall, somehow, somewhere between the two. The desert is breathing, alive; our Boy and Girl wander, but never sense the danger. The soothing spiel of the radio, spouting epithets, lulls them onwards. Their Father’s death, self-imposed, barely stirs the emotions.

Violence and sexuality are deliriously entwined out here. The Aboriginal world is painted as utterly sexless. Ritual and nakedness go hand in hand. Unclothed women clamber over the burnt-out hulk of a car, unaware of the sheer magnitude of their presence. Yet the deeply ingrained fetishization of Western sexuality eventually pervades even the outback: the downy flash of a schoolgirl’s thigh, a fleeting glimpse of white cotton panties, dusted and smeared, can paralyse and stupefy, where sheer nakedness cannot. Roeg intersperses clandestine sexuality, the kind that we force into the shadows of our being, with bursts of terrible violence: the bludgeoning of a kangaroo, the destruction of living beings by high-powered rifle.

And, finally, this sexuality, not that of the outback, but the poisonous kind that gestates in the boarding-houses and back-alleys of the world, begets violence. An explanation for the Father’s sudden suicide can be seen in his vacant-eyed stare, punctuated by transitory visions of his daughter’s buttocks. Civilisation, it seems, forces us into this incestuous self-hatred. Roeg has many ill-considered ideas about the ‘noble savage’ and the ‘purity’ of the wild, but his understanding of society as an act of self-delusion by an entire species, a concerted attempt to cut itself off from nature, is penetrating. We have moved into the empty spaces, established flimsy bastions along its frontiers. We build sterilized swimming pools next to oceans, and frolic in them, blissfully unaware of our disconnection.

And finally, we marry and live lives of quiet exactitude. And the cycle of repressed disengagement begins all over again.

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