Walkabout (1971)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Walkabout</strong> (1971)

(On DVD, August 2010) Something really strange happened to me during Walkabout: As the initial look at the metropolitan bustle of early-seventies urban Australia became a surrealistic outback reverie, I started dreading the rest of the movie: I don’t respond well to non-narrative films, and the idea of spending another hour and a half in a daze of dream-like images held a limited appeal.  It got worse as the bare essential of the plot were carelessly established: a female teenager and her kid brother, stranded in the Australian outback.  Narratively, the film never holds up: characters act in painfully unrealistic ways, the visual and thematic strangeness of the film undercutting any serious attempt at establishing narrative tension as they float from one situation to another with nonsensical dialogue that never reflects the danger of their situation.  But that’s when the strangeness occurred, because rather than fight the film for what it wasn’t trying to do, I let myself slip into the oneiric state of mind best suited to appreciate the incredible cinematography, symbolism and atmosphere of the film.  It’s not about two kids returning to civilization thanks to the help of an aborigine teen: It’s about superb pictures, meditations upon nature versus civilization, teenage sexuality, the impossibility to communicate, the way we’re set in our own limitations and the longing for rites of passage.  At least that’s what I got out of it, in-between the film’s often-surprising non-sequiturs and often-audacious editing.  What does it mean?  You tell me, in between excerpts of a meteorologist sex comedy, in-your-face juxtaposition, page-flipping, moody skin-bathing, suicidal characters, animals harmed during the making of this film and a coda that almost wraps everything together.  Some reviews of the film will promise you that no one who ever saw Walkabout ever forgot about it and this, for once, doesn’t feel like hype: In the state of mind created by the film, I gasped aloud at two particularly striking shots and couldn’t help but marvel at the impeccable depiction of the Australian Outback wildlife.  If the preachiness of the film hasn’t aged very well, its impeccable images and Jenny Agutter’s performance as a teenage girl have stood the test of time.  It’s a very zen-like film: don’t expect it to make sense and it just may start doing so.

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