Two young city children are left in the outback to survive on their own and gets helped by a young aborigine man. This is the simple plot of Walkabout, but the film is about way more than these two children and their helper. It is about a civilized view of a more native culture, it is about growing up and discovering sexuality, and it is about the little boxes that we put each other in even when we are children.
The two children are a young boy and a teenage girl. Their father takes them to the outback and they think they are going to have a picnic. Instead he is there to shoot them and then himself. He does not succeed in shooting them, but he does commit suicide and blows up the car. They are stuck. They are stuck with the clothes on their backs and the food in their picnic sack. They are in a place that is so incredibly foreign to them, despite it being just miles from their own backyard. The girl takes charge and they start to walk. Soon they are desperate. They need help and they don’t know how to get it. Help does come. It comes in the form of a young aborigine man who is on his walkabout. A walkabout is a time in an aborigine childhood where he sets out to survive on his own for six or so months. This young man takes them under his wing and walks them to relative safety.
There are communication issues. The young woman makes hardly any effort to talk his language, and he makes little effort to talk in hers. But the boy breaks through the language barrier and carries on conversations with the aborigine through various different forms of sign language. The wonder of a child is universal. He wants to learn exactly what the aborigine culture is all about. He goes shirtless because the aborigine is shirtless, he learns to hunt and paint like the aborigine do. The young woman always watches from a distance, but never participates. She is too set in her lifestyle even as a young woman to fully succumb to this new wild way of thinking. But she is also a budding teenager who is just waking her sexual desire. In a beautiful lyrical scene, the young girl swims naked in a lake while the aborigine looks on. Towards the end, he expresses his desire for her in the only way he knows how, through a traditional dance that scares the young woman. It is obvious that many years later, she regrets the decisions that she made. She still dreams about those days in the outback.
Nicolas Roeg takes a simple story and injects it with such beauty that it was hard for me to take my eyes away from the screen. In one sequence, he cross cuts the young boy learning how to hunt for and prepare kangaroo with a butcher in a butcher shop chopping up the choice meat. In one simple sequence, Mr. Roeg says way more about our innate natures than a whole movie can in Hollywood. His simplicity belies his beauty and his social commentary. I watched this film, thinking one thing and the more I thought about it afterwards, the more I began to realize just how deep this film was. That is what I like about films.