||There's a long-running joke about the Australian wildlife (if it is a joke), that it all wants to kill you. Death was certainly very apparent in director Nicolas Roeg's 1971 film Walkabout, a co-production between his native Britain and Australia, on the other side of the world, bringing the pseudonymous James Vance Marshall's novel to the screen in the most lyrical fashion possible. Roeg had started to make a name for himself in the nineteen-sixties as a cinematographer, and often, that old critical cliché, his work in that area would be praised as the best thing about the pictures he was involved with during that period.
He had made Walkabout around the time he made Performance, a troubled production whose studio were not sure whether they wanted to release it thanks to how offensive they found it. The hipsters of 1970, however, embraced it and made it a cult movie, which was more or less how his career would continue, as very much a specialist field for the exacting and discerning film buff. This film, along with his next, the Daphne Du Maurier adaptation Don't Look Now, was probably his most seen thanks to the Marshall book proving to have legs and even becoming part of many a school's curriculum, meaning it would be seen there too.
For decades, the big television would be wheeled into the classrooms and Walkabout would cast its spell, also making its star Jenny Agutter as well known among teenagers as Olivia Hussey for her nude scene (Hussey's was in Romeo and Juliet), and latterly attracting some condemnation. That said, with Roeg you never had the sense he was exploiting anybody, and he was as interested in the naked bodies of his cast in a curiously academic way as if he was some alien intelligence observing his subjects with a dispassionate eye, from Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie's sex scene in Don't Look Now to Theresa Russell's disturbing assault in Bad Timing.
Besides, the characters in Walkabout had become part of nature, and the technique Roeg applied here, mostly improvisational and keen to collect as many images of the flora and fauna as he possibly could pack into a hundred minutes, presented it as a form of Eden, though not in a sentimental, or even religious manner. We are in no doubt that there is death all around: the three kids must face it over and over until tragedy finally strikes, but perhaps the most shocking is the father of the white sister and brother opts to not only kill himself as a reaction to civilisation, but also his children. He does not succeed, but does blow his brains out.
This in the middle of the Outback, a vast location that has fascinated Australian filmmakers, and visiting filmmakers, ever since movies started to be made there. The first big hit was The Overlanders back in the forties, which was set there extensively, and that was the benchmark: Aussie pictures that did not include its wildlife and countryside, including the shoreline were somehow lacking, even bereft, of the entire scope of the continent. If anything, Walkabout was all the more fascinated in nature to a degree that was well nigh mystical, becoming a living, breathing ecosystem the unnamed girl and boy travel through.
They cannot drive, and their father's car is burnt out anyway, so they have to make their way on foot, which is where the threat of death begins to bear down on them, as if rejected by this environment for being too alien for it, hailing as they do from the city. Just as they are about to expire from the heat, the landscape takes pity on them and gives them an oasis with fruit to eat and later an aborigine boy, David Gulpilil, who would become the most prominent indigenous actor of his generation. He is unnamed as well, and famously could not speak English when cast, but he is as symbolic of a different life as the pair he has found are.
This was because the terrible legacy of Australia's colonial past was rising up to meet them, and our story ended much as that history had, with unthinking exploitation. Not that the white girl really means to harm the black boy, she simply refuses to adapt her rigid mindset to the situation and fixates on getting back to the city. It is only at the very end, when we see a glimpse of where she wound up domesticated years later, that she realises what she has lost and abandoned, and we can blame the inability of two cultures to intertwine for that. It was one of the most poignant conclusions of any of Roeg's films, including The Man Who Fell to Earth, and one that has lingered in the thoughts of countless viewers of Walkabout because it taps into something primal we feel about nature, even if we do not acknowledge it. Something has been lost, maybe Paradise, certainly a deeper knowledge and awareness. For that reason, this eerie, unsettling, striking, sad film will stay with you.
[Second Sight's Blu-ray of Walkabout has the following special features:
Brand new 4k scan and restoration
A new audio commentary with Luc Roeg and David Thompson
Producing Walkabout: a new interview with Producer Si Litvinoff
Luc's Walkabout: a new interview with Luc Roeg
Jenny in the Outback: a new interview with Jenny Agutter
Remembering Roeg: a new interview with Danny Boyle
2011 BFI Q&A with Nicolas Roeg, Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg
Archive introduction by Nicolas Roeg
English SDH subtitles for the hearing impaired
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
Limited Edition Box Set of only 3,000
Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Michael Boland
The source novel 'Walkabout' with cover artwork excusive to this release
Soft cover book featuring facsimile copy of the original 65-page First Draft Script with preface by Daniel Bird
Soft cover book with new essays by Sophie Monks Kaufman, Simon Abrams and Daniel Bird plus stills and lobby card images]