Hypnotic in the way it rhymes different, yet coexisting, markings of civilization across a lateral timeline of progression--as compared to the verticality inherent to specific cultural hierarchies--Nicholas Roeg’s first solo effort, Walkabout, is a brilliant mix of provocation and perception; a study in sight and sound that foretells of what’s forgotten in our steadfast pursuit of contented domestication and the similarities that abound the human psyche, regardless of its cultural context. But this isn’t to say that Roeg, whose resumé to this point was chiefly that of a cinematographer, is only interested in the more humanistic implications of Edward Bond’s (Blowup) adapted screenplay. In fact, his photographic roots allow for cinematic gesticulating on how disorienting the unfamiliar is.
Primarily the story of two siblings (an innocently alluring Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg, a somewhat precocious scamp) who, abandoned by their father, are forced to traverse the Australian outback, Walkabout first fleshes out the comforts of contempo living before stripping it away and leaving the pair (and their survival) up to their most primitive of instincts. Though they find some water and fruit, thus temporarily affording them sustenance, they quickly become clueless in how to procure life’s necessities. Amidst wondering why their water hole withered away, they are joined by an aborigine boy (David Gulpilil) who’s embarking on the film’s titular ritual – a banishment in which he’s to live off the land during his transition from nonage to manhood. He protects them. He hunts for them. He leads them toward civilization or, rather, their version of it. But despite these differences in survivalist aptitude, communicative prowess, and cultural advancement, there exists an undeniable innateness that connects the white girl and black boy: sexual curiosity. Still, Roeg doesn’t turn his piece into an assay on sensual inquisition, despite the peering glances of its physically maturing primaries. Instead, the formal parallels – which include match cuts of Agutter’s legs and some very vaginal-looking tree limbs – of sexuality and the agrarian surroundings seem to suggest the naturalness of it all in comparison to the relative sterility of civilized living.
But sex isn’t the only natural gesture that, as the film suggests, has grown increasingly sanitary and bastardized with time. While stalking some subsistence, the aborigine bears witness to a massacre of sorts – civilized man spilling blood for sport. The boy cries, as if to illustrate the depth of our most instinctually emotive currents. And despite the violence and clamor of it all – the echo of gunfire, the bustle of animals fleeing, the fall of those that fail to – Roeg never enacts criticism in the face of our barbarity, instead using the motif to explicate the innocence of the boy witnessing it. Just as he is, from the standpoint of his own culture, incapable of replicating a modern mindset, those perpetuating the hunt (far beyond what’s “necessary,” if you will) fail to see the significance of their bloodlust. This appears to be the crux of Roeg’s rationale: that social impositions forever change the way we view even the most basic tenets of life (sheltering, eating, and mating) and how once these cultural chasms are contrived they can never again be bridged.
Typical of a film its age, Walkabout translates to Blu-ray with a combination of consummate clarity and dissimilar deficiency, though the former certainly proves to be the standard for this release what with its lucidly luminous skies and polychromatic panoramas that make the picture all the more evocatively earthy. Similar to their Days of Heaven and Paris, Texas releases, Criterion has again captured the humbling expanses of nature by showcasing not only the explicit detail of Roeg’s most scenic of settings, but also in their representation of texture and depth. Sand dunes and rocky regions alike appear both tranquil and inauspicious in their organically scopious state and wildlife, which is almost always shown through menacing close-up, showcase an array of detail and kinetic fluidity. The grain structure of the film, though somewhat variable due to the quality of the source prints, is convincingly consistent, and allows for some very robust detail - far beyond the capabilities of standard definition. The sound track hardly reads as indicative of 1080p quality, but is crisp and unobtrusive; a wonderful compliment to a picture predominantly pristine.