Prior to Walkabout, Nicolas Roeg had co-directed (with Donald Cammell) only one film, the astonishing Performance, so a good deal was riding on the cinematographer-turned-filmmaker’s second outing. Could Roeg pull off a solo film? Indeed he could — and in so doing he established himself as a filmmaker with a unique, if not always completely penetrable, vision.
Roeg presents a solitary aesthetic in his refusal (possibly his inability) to create works that concern themselves with traditional notions of dramatic clarity. He suggests much, but rarely explains the real meaning behind the suggestion.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Walkabout where we’re given a story predicated on a father taking his children (Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg) on a wilderness picnic — where he proceeds to try to shoot them, before setting his car on fire and committing suicide. There are intimations from the onset that things are not as they should be, but that’s all — and the set-up seems mostly designed to get us to the basic story of the children wandering through the Australian outback in the most disturbing manner possible. The bulk of the film then deals with their survival with the aid of a young Aborigine (David Gulpill) on his “walkabout” (the Aborigine survivalist rite of passage to manhood) and the clash between the two cultures.
It could have been a stock “noble savage” opus decrying modern civilization, but it isn’t, and it achieves rare power by remaining mysterious in its critique. Roeg would go on to better films, but the basics of his approach are found in this landmark work of haunting beauty and ugliness.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke