Walkabout (1971) by The Realist and Tuna

The Realist's comments in white:

Walkabout is one of the nuttier movies I've ever seen.

It starts out in suburban Sydney, with a typical family living in a typical middle-class apartment, but something is odd about their interaction. You just can't put your finger on it, but something isn't right.

This judgment is confirmed in a few minutes when dad takes the kids for a picnic. He drives them out to a remote section of the outback where the roads are unpaved, and he tell them to unpack the picnic items. We see the gas gauge, and he has none at all for the return trip. The teenage girl and the little boy start to spread out the picnic when the dad starts shooting at them. It turns out that he's as nutty as a fruitcake, and he apparently came to this remote area to kill himself, which he then proceeds to do.

It isn't clear why he brought the children along on his suicide mission, except that he's out of his head, but the kids manage to escape the hailstorm of bullets and find themselves stranded in the remote outback, with no idea where to go. The girl decides that they need to get to high ground to see which way to go, so they start some climbing. This chapter of the film consists entirely of the two kids, still wearing their school uniforms, walking in the untamed land, and would probably make a perfect special on the Discovery Channel.

They are not very successful in their quest for civilization until they run into an aboriginal boy who is on his "walkabout", a test of manhood which entails survival on one's own. The next chapter consists of him helping them to find houses and roads, and helping them to survive along the way. He knows how to kill and prepare game, how to find water, and so forth. 


the main body of the report
There are plenty of incidents with an eccentric twist or an odd tone. The aboriginal boy sees a settlement, but doesn't tell the others. Is he hiding it from them, or perhaps does he not understand that they want to go there? They find a deserted farmhouse, and the teenage girl cries over some photographs, while the aboriginal watches her, not understanding her reaction. Then he covers himself with white paint and performs some kind of courtship ritual for the young girl, but she is frightened, not aroused, and cowers. The aboriginal does not know how to communicate to them. The little boy is never really scared of the native, and simply treats him as another person his sister's age, from whom he learns some cool things. The film is cut strangely. The girl swims peacefully, while the aboriginal boy kills some game for food, cut to girl, cut to boy. Then they intercut some scenes of some adults with high-powered weapons killing more game. Then some more aboriginals find the suicidal father and his burnt-out car. Cut back, cut forth. All the while, flies buzz about everyone and lizards stare impassively. Cut to boy, cut to girl, cut to hunters, cut to flies, cut to lizards. When in doubt about how to proceed, cut to colorful lizards and sunsets.

When the kids return to civilization, the girl daydreams of her adventures in the outback, but her daydreams seem to have an ease of communication that were not present in reality. The three kids are back in the swimming hole, all swimming naked together and laughing. The narrator reads us some lines about times lost that can never be reclaimed, and the girl seems to feel a sense of loss, or perhaps of opportunities missed forever. I guess I just gave away the ending, if that matters to you. Sorry. I know the tension must have been killing you, and my heart reached out to you.

I really don't know what this movie means. A lot of critics felt that it was some kind of masterpiece. I always start to worry when a review says "more of an allegorical tone poem than a conventional adventure". Some people are lactose intolerant, I am intolerant of allegorical tone-poetry.

Scoop's notes in aqua: the actual poetry quoted by the narrator at the end of the film is from A.E. Housman's '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.

 I thought the film had its moments, but was generally just as boring as all get-out. I did really like two things about the movie:

  • First, Jenny Agutter has several nude scenes. She strips to swim, and the camera follows her, lingers on her. She gets dressed in a farmhouse, and is surprised when the aboriginal does his courtship dance for her. She removes her shirt again to change. In her daydream she is stark naked again. (The aboriginal and the little boy are also seen naked, willies and all). Scoop's note in aqua: Amazingly enough, this film was rated PG by the MPAA, despite extensive frontal nudity from both sexes.
  • Second, the photography of the outback is gorgeous, and shows off an interesting landscape and plenty of rare animals, as well as the aboriginal's hunting techniques. The director is Nick Roeg, and I've never thought he was much of a director. I still can't figure out how I lost the main thread in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Roeg was a terrific cinematographer, however, and the photographs are spectacular. It would have made a great IMAX film, and must be much more impressive to see on a large screen rather than on a computer window.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.78:1

  • unedited director's cut

  • full-length commentary by the director and Jenny Agutter

  • an essay on the film by Roger Ebert

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Walkabout is one of those movies that everyone who follows celebrity nudity knows all about. This seemingly simple story of a young girl (Jenny Agutter) and her kid brother, stranded in the bush by their father's suicide, who were guided back safely by a young aborigine her age on his "Walkabout," or coming of age ritual, could be a simple love story, it could be about the unhappiness of city dwellers as opposed to aborigines, or it could be about the problems caused by lack of communication. It glancing three the reviews, everyone has a different theory as to what the symbolism is, but everyone agrees that it is a masterpiece, beautifully filmed, and everybody agrees that Agutter looks very good in her numerous nude scenes.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 3/4. Ebert wrote a long essay, but did not give a rating. His essay was more of an allegorical tone poem than a review.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Tuna says, "this film has the flavor of a doccudrama, but is rated 7.5 at IMDB and praised by critics. This is a B-, as it appeals to some who would normally not consider a pseudo-documentary." Scoop says, "I disagree on the crossover portion of Tuna's comments. It is the kind of film that critics and film buffs like, but is not a mass audience crossover film at all. Hell, I love movies and I can barely stay awake when Agutter is clothed. This film is a classic C+". The Realist says, "assuming that its genre is "allegorical tone poems", it must be one of the best ever. I can't even name another one, but if that's your genre, then this must be your equivalent of "The Godfather". If you aren't into nature films or allegorical tone poems, you still might want to rent it for Jenny Agutter's nudity, but keep your hand on that FF button."

Return to the Movie House home page