Cast & Crew
In Sydney, Australia, a family lives in a high-rise apartment building, where the mother is preparing the meal and listening to a radio as she works. After school, the children, a self-possessed fourteen-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother, swim in the building's pool that has a view of the ocean, as the father, who is deep in troubled thought, watches them from their balcony. One day the father drives the children, who are still wearing their school uniforms, deep into the Outback. As the daughter sets out a picnic lunch on a large scarf and the little boy plays with his water gun and toy soldiers, the father reads in his car. Suddenly, announcing it is time to go, he pulls out a gun and fires several shots at them. The boy believes it is a game, but the girl understands the danger and shields her brother from seeing their father set the car on fire and shoot himself dead. Quickly, the girl retrieves the radio, the scarf and what food she can carry away and sets off with her brother, hoping to find her way back to civilization.
Calmed by the irrelevant sounds of radio broadcasts, the girl leads the boy in the hot sun past wild creatures, many of whom are dangerous if provoked. When the sun finally sets, the boy is delighted to camp out overnight. In the daytime, hoping to see where they are, the girl leads him up a rocky hill and they walk along the ridge, where they get a view of the sea. When they finish drinking a bottle of lemonade, the girl makes a hole in a can of vegetables, from which they drink the juice. Recalling an uncle's story about his military training, the girl suggests that they eat salt and tells the boy they will stay in the desert a few days. She remains stoic, keeping the boy entertained, and when he tires, she carries him. They are dirty, exhausted and depressed when the boy spots a tree filled with fruit and parakeets surrounded by a muddy pool. Eating the fruit, the boy proclaims that it tastes "lovely." After washing, the girl scolds her brother to take care of his clothes so they will last. When he asks if they are lost, she replies simply that they are not.
As they sleep, a boa constructor crawls over them and animals tread past them and in the morning they awaken to find that the water has dried up and the fruit has been eaten. Hoping that the water hole might refill again, the girl decides they will remain there. As they nap in the hot sun, the boy spots an adolescent aborigine who is pursuing an animal to kill it for food. He talks to them, but they do not understand his language. The girl calls to him, asking him to help them find water, believing that he should be able to understand her request. Her repetition of the word "water" is incomprehensible to him, but when the boy mimics drinking, the aborigine understands and shows them how to poke a hollow tube into the earth and drink through it. Assuming that he will take them to civilization, the girl and her brother accompany the aborigine, unaware that he is on a "walkabout," a solitary journey that a male of his tribe undertakes to mark his entrance into adulthood. He kills, prepares and cooks wild beasts for them, so they no longer go hungry, and leads them to a greener land, where there is plenty to drink. When the boy becomes ill from sunburn, the aborigine knows what to do. While they are resting, the girl suggests to her brother that the aborigine would like to play with his toy soldier, because he has never had one, but the older male tosses it aside.
As they are still children, they frolic in trees and swim in ponds, but the girl and the aborigine, who are on the brink of sexual maturity, are watchful of each other. The girl, especially, remains vaguely uncomfortable and small events cause her to remember the horrible sights of her father's death. When the aborigine talks to the girl, she does not understand, but the boy soon learns to communicate with him. As they walk, the boy tells the aborigine a story, to which he listens, but, as the girl points out, he cannot understand. When the aborigine stops to draw a story in pictures onto a rock cliff, the girl draws a house, hoping to communicate that that is where she wants to go and the boy chatters his belief that the aborigine can take them to Mars.
They pass very close to the homestead of a husband and wife who hire indigenous people to make small statues of animals that will be sold as souvenirs to tourists. Speaking in his language, the woman tries to hire the proud aborigine while he is scouting ahead of the boy and girl, but he rebuffs the woman, and the siblings remain unaware of how close they are to other whites. Although they seem far away from other humans, there are a group of scientists nearby, who lose a weather balloon, which the aborigine retrieves and brings to the girl and boy. When the girl instructs her brother to ask the aborigine how much longer it will take to get to their destination, the aborigine smiles and, using hand signs, answers that they will reach it that day.
Soon they approach a homestead, but to the girl's sorrow, it is deserted. The aborigine talks happily to the girl, who does not understand, and he watches her when, inside the house, she cries after finding old photographs. When she asks him to get "water," still unable to say any word in his language, he understands. Unhappily, he shows the boy a road nearby, and then pursues a wild animal with his spear, while having visions of the white homesteader shooting the animals. When he returns to the house, he ignores the girl's hello. Later, he approaches her more forcefully than usual, his body painted to resemble a skeleton and the girl, now fearing him, shuts herself inside the house with her brother, who is too young to understand the nuances of the older children. As if carrying out a ritual, he dances throughout the night, although he is silently crying.
When the boy tells her that the aborigine showed him a road, the girl decides that she and her brother should continue their journey without their companion. When she awakens in the morning, the aborigine appears to be gone. Looking forward to returning to her old life, the girl insists that they dress in their full uniform. She tells the boy that the aborigine left to be with his own people, but the boy knows better. He says that when he offered his pen knife as a gift to him, the aborigine did not take it and then leads her to where the aborigine is hanging, dead, in a tree. Disturbed, she asks her brother if he ate his breakfast properly sitting down, but brushes away the flies on the aborigine's chest. They follow the road to a set of buildings that were previously used for a now abandoned mine. The caretaker locks them out of the property, but tells them where they can wait for others to arrive. While they wait, they play around the old mineshafts.
Years later, a businessman returns home and, pleased with himself, tells his wife that he has been promoted to the position vacated by an older man, who was laid off. As he talks about an impending salary increase that will finance a vacation on the Gold Coast, her mind wanders and she silently recalls idealized moments of the time she spent in the Outback with her brother and the aborigine.
Anthony J. Hope
Max L. Raab
Ronald David Wood
Walkabout (1971) - Walkabout
The basic outline of the plot of Walkabout makes it seem like an innocuous children's adventure movie rather than the deeply dark study of humanity that it is. The story could be simply related as one of innocents lost in nature, helped out by a mysterious aboriginal boy on a walkabout and connecting with nature in the process. In fact, such a simple reading is encouraged by the opening credits of the film which state:
"In Australia when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the Walkabout. This is the story of a Walkabout."
But this doesn't begin to truly describe the underpinnings of culture-clash that are at the heart of Walkabout. Roger Ebert described it as "deeply pessimistic" and he has a point. Walkabout portrays nature as brutal and harsh, communication between cultures as an obstacle (possibly insurmountable) and the world as uncaring.
The film begins with shots of the Australian urban environment, surrounded by trees and ocean but ignorant of the nature that consumes it. There are exotic trees, but they are conveniently labeled, and there is a beautiful ocean but the children swim in a pool instead. Outside of work, their father sits alone on a bench and then, at home, stares at his children in the pool without emotion.
Before we can get to know the man and his children, we see them in the family car, parked on a desert plain in the middle of the outback. The father has brought them here, presumably for a picnic, but when the daughter begins setting up the blanket and food something happens that is so inexplicable and shocking, any idea that this might be a cheery family adventure movie is quickly run out the door. Reacting on only her survival instincts, the girl (Jenny Agutter) leads the boy (Lucien John, aka Luc Roeg, the director's son) into the outback in a last ditch hope for rescue.
The girl and boy (the children's names are never given) wander aimlessly, coming upon a small gully of water only to have it dry up by morning. With no survival skills at hand to back up their instincts, death seems certain. Fortunately, they find an aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on a walkabout. After unsuccessful attempts by the girl, the boy conveys to the aboriginal boy their need for water and he shows them how to get water from a dry bed. At this point the plot, or what little there is of it, begins. But the real story of Walkabout is how they survive and wander, how Roeg films their actions and how both come together to make a trenchant commentary on the western civilization clashing with the aboriginal natives of Australia.
Nicolas Roeg had worked as a cinematographer on films as varied as The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Caretaker (1963) and Fahrenheit 451 (1966) eventually taking on co-directing duties with Performance in 1970 before finding the perfect vehicle for his first solo outing as a director, Walkabout. It was a film Roeg had long wanted to make since reading the book (the book the film was based upon was published in 1959 by author Donald G. Payne, writing under the pseudonym James Vance Marshall) but not until British playwright Edward Bond did a treatment for him was he convinced it could work. The problem was that previous attempts to translate it to film resulted in long, dialogue-filled screenplays that worked against the simple beauty of the work. Bond took on the task of adapting the book and knowing his audience, Nicolas Roeg himself, turned in a screenplay decidedly succinct: Fourteen pages. Roeg loved it. A short outline of a screenplay like that meant that Roeg could employ visuals to tell almost the entire story. In fact, the dialogue in Walkabout is almost as superfluous as that found in a Jacques Tati film, used for only the barest of details that the visuals cannot express. And the visuals are a mix of the beautiful and the horrifying.
The outback is filled with a real sense of vitality and liveliness as animals and people, shadows and clouds, and plants and watering holes play off of each other and dance in and out of a dizzying collection of dissolves, cross-cuts and freeze-frames to make the images before our eyes become the narrator in our heads. But there is also brutality including very real violence against animals in which kangaroos and buffalos are beaten and pierced and shot only to be skinned and gutted and eaten. This is not a movie for viewers queasy with the idea of watching actual footage of animal slaughter as there is plenty such footage and it is graphically detailed.
Throughout the film Roeg's eye is concerned with the communication, or lack thereof, of the two cultures. The girl and boy communicate well enough with the aboriginal boy to stay alive but never understand who he is or why he is there. Actions late in the film only compound the confusion between the two cultures as the aboriginal boy misses as many signals from his wards as they do from their guide. Roeg shows children alone in the world, at risk and fighting for their own survival but never gives in to cheap sentiment or empty victories of overcoming the odds. They survive as best they can and Roeg observes it, succeeding admirably in visually detailing a harsh and brutal environment with no emotion and no sentimentality. The real triumph of the film is that Roeg is content to let the observation be enough.
Producer: Si Litvinoff, Max L. Raab, Anthony J. Hope
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay: Edward Bond
Cinematography: Nicolas Roeg
Art Direction: Terry Gough
Music: John Barry
Film Editor: Antony Gibbs, Alan Pattillo
Cast: Jenny Agutter (Girl), Lucien John (White Boy), David Gulpilil (Black Boy), John Meillon (Man), Robert McDara (Man), Pete Carver (No Hoper), John Illingsworth (Young Man), Hilary Bamberger (Woman).
by Greg Ferrara
Walkabout (1971) - Walkabout
Walkabout - Nicholas Roeg's WALKABOUT on DVD from The Criterion Collection
The very next year, when the Easy Rider wave of youth rebellion was already cresting, Nicolas Roeg offered up as his first solo directing effort Walkabout, a delicate art house adventure filmed in the Australian outback. In place of drugs and revolution, the movie deals with the nature of innocence and touches upon the sexual awakening of an odd pair of teenagers. Jenny Agutter is a Sydney schoolgirl lost with her brother in the desert. The interesting David Gulpilil is a young aborigine undergoing his "Walkabout" manhood ritual, in which young men are simply sent into the wild to fend for themselves for several months. Nicholas Roeg tells much of the story non-verbally, and experiments with the creative editing patterns he'd exploit much further in later films. Walkabout is laden with lyrical and poetic images and carries a constant tension with its theme of underage sensuality. Billed as the White Girl and the Black Boy, the adolescents are eventually attracted to each other, creating an unstated tension that neither is prepared to deal with.
Edward Bond's screenplay, from a book by James Vance Marshall, places small children in jeopardy in a cruel landscape. The Girl and her younger Brother (the director's son Luc Roeg, billed as Lucien John) are abandoned in the outback by their Father (John Meillon), who has apparently lost his mind. The Girl is just mature enough to shield her brother from the truth. She engages him in a calm game of walking out of the desert. They climb hills, avoid animals and pause by a water hole, which mysteriously dries up not long after they arrive. The situation looks hopeless until they meet the Black Boy. Apparently doing quite well on his Walkabout, the Boy uses spears to kill monitor lizards for food and shows his new companions how to obtain water from a muddy gulley. The Girl is cautious but impressed by the Boy's skills. Curiously, it's little Brother who learns a few words of the aboriginal language, to ask for water. The aboriginal Boy is both gentle and respectful. He intuits what the children want, and accompanies them in the direction of the nearest white settlement. But when the trio reaches an abandoned house, the Boy's interest in the Girl finally finds expression.
Acting as his own cinematographer, Nicolas Roeg's artistic response to the desert's colorful rocks, odd plant life and strange animals goes beyond realism. Lizards stalk like miniature dinosaurs and display wide frills around their necks; odd insects look for food and a cute little hedgehog-like mammal sniffs around the children as they sleep. The Boy is fully adapted to this cruel landscape. All he seems to require is his fistful of hand-fashioned spears. The Girl keeps her clothes as neat as she can and observes proper rules of behavior, partly not to upset her brother. The little boy doesn't fully comprehend that his life is in danger. He accepts things as they come, and trusts his sister's judgment without question. If she says they're not really lost, then he won't worry about it.
With its focus on children naturally abiding a dangerous situation, Walkabout is somewhat similar to Alexander Mackendrick's A High Wind in Jamaica. But Roeg keeps us focused on very specific relationships. With no verbal communication possible, the Girl learns just enough about the Boy to decide that he's not a threat. Although the Boy is experienced in survival techniques, he's still an adolescent; the three often play like ordinary kids. Their somewhat idyllic relationship confronts issues normally untouched in 1971. Audiences were pleased by the movie's innocent vision of under-aged children of different races swimming together naked, beyond the unnatural rules of society. The trio's natural companionship seems precarious only when they make contact with civilization. The first white man they meet is an annoying caretaker oblivious to their emergency. He slams his door in their faces and orders them to stay off company property.
The travelers camp near a highway. Realizing that they'll soon be separated, the Boy paints himself in ceremonial colors to perform a ritual dance. The Girl feels threatened by this and avoids him. We soon realize that the dance is a courtship rite. The Boy has lost his heart to his new friend, and is doubly saddened when his magic dance doesn't bridge the cultural boundary. Walkabout presents a credible version of the "innocent wilderness" fantasy found in stories like The Blue Lagoon.
Director Roeg adds interest through memory flashbacks and overlays of associative imagery. His movie begins with scenes of the Girl and the Brother in their schoolrooms, and at play in the pool of their parents' luxury apartment. Roeg occasionally interrupts his desert trek with montages of life back in the concrete anthills of the city. The Girl's thought process is illustrated by memory cuts back to the spectacle of her father shooting himself after setting fire to their car. Seeing some camels, the little brother imagines an early explorer riding one across the desert. The visual ties in with a scene in Roeg's later The Man Who Fell to Earth, a time-travel vision of a hundred year-old wagon train that magically appears in the present.
The director doesn't task his visuals to suggest the presence of mystical forces, as Peter Weir does in his supernatural thriller The Last Wave. The trio's first contact with the 'normal' world is an abandoned mine, a ruin that covers the landscape with rusted metal. Instead of the expected ecological statement, the ugly sight is treated as just another adventure shared by the lost children. As they are too young to frame their situation in an ironic context, their reactions seem entirely honest.
One rather unnecessary cutaway shows a female researcher and her Italian helpers working at a different location in the desert. The men spend their time ogling her neckline and legs. Possibly meant as comic relief, the scene seems a strained attempt to provide a contrast to the idyllic relationship forming between the Girl and the Boy. But Roeg doesn't preach that primitive ways are superior to modern society. An aboriginal family that discovers the burned car is not touted as an ideal human living unit, simply a different one. Apparently following a burial custom, they perch the father's corpse up in a tree.
Nineteen year-old Jenny Agutter already had six years of film experience and came to Walkabout directly from an acclaimed performance in Lionel Jeffries' The Railway Children. A graceful and expressive actress, she carries Walkabout with ease. The Girl's unemotional way of facing adversity never seems the slightest bit forced, and her later intuition of a connection with The Boy is beautifully understated. First-time actor David Gulpilil is a gifted "natural" performer. We don't understand the Boy's language but we can tell that he's both good-hearted and decent. It's natural that he'd eventually develop a crush on the Girl. The tragedy of their relationship is that his tribal upbringing affords him only one way of showing his admiration.
Criterion's Blu-ray (and also a DVD release) of Walkabout presents Nicolas Roeg's unique masterpiece in a beautiful HD transfer that retains the sharpness and delicate colors of original theatrical prints. Roeg's expert camerawork is handsomely represented. John Barry's music score weaves between natural sounds and snippets of pop tunes from the Girl's portable radio. Barry also frames some children's songs in a wistful choral context.
Director Roeg and Jenny Agutter offer their observations on a full-length commentary track. Roeg generously explains some of his visual motifs, as when he uses a brick wall as a transition piece between the outback and the city. He also recalls asking his son to pose and point while standing at the brink of a steep cliff, and hearing the boy's tiny, inquiring voice through his walkie-talkie: "What does he want me to now? " Ms. Agutter says that she was fourteen when first approached about this film. She remembers initially wanting the role because it might afford her an opportunity to meet the Beatles!
Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg are also present for individual video interviews. Each has strong memories of the filming, forty years later. Actor-dancer David Gulpilil is represented in an engaging 2002 documentary about his life and career, Gulpilil - One Red Blood. Roeg discovered Gulpilil at age 16 in a missionary school; the actor went on to give impressive performances in movies by Peter Weir, Philip Kaufman, Philippe Mora and Wim Wenders.
For more information about Walkabout, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Walkabout, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Walkabout - Nicholas Roeg's WALKABOUT on DVD from The Criterion Collection
Please try. It's silly to give in now. It can't be much further.- The Girl
We want water. That's as simple as I can make it. Anybody can understand that.- The Girl
Due to Jenny Agutter's full-frontal nudity, film originally drew an "R" rating from the MPAA. It was reduced to "PG" on appeal.
The poetry quoted by the narrator at the end of the film is Part 40 of A.E. Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad': Into my heart an air that kills From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again.
Jenny Agutter was embarrassed when doing the scene of her swimming naked in the lake, so as many as possible of the crew were sent away. When shooting was done they returned, stripped naked, and went for a swim.
Before the opening credits a title card reads: "In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT. This is the story of a 'Walkabout.'" According to a modern source, this written foreward was added after the film's initial release. At the end of the film, a narrator recites an excerpt from A. E. Housman's poem, "The Shropshire Lad," which tells of "the land of lost content" where one cannot return. The film ends with the statement, "Rien ne va plus," a French saying that can be translated loosely as "Nothing more."
As noted in the closing credits, Walkabout was filmed entirely on location in Australia. According to the film's production notes, the movie features sequences shot in the red desert surrounding Alice Springs, in the Flinders mountain range area and at locations never before visited by Western man. The studio production notes reported that the opening and closing sequences were shot in Sydney. A radio, which appears first in an early sequence as the "mother" prepares food, appears throughout the film and broadcasts miscellaneous information in counterpoint to the childrens' predicament. Several brief shots showing flashbacks and ghost-like visions are interspersed into the main story. Some brief flashes compare city life with that of the natives, such as a city butcher preparing meat intercut with the "Aborigine's" spearing and cutting up of an animal for food. Another inserted scene mentioned in several reviews shows the children playing in a tree, while a group of Aborigines discover and play around the burned-out car and corpse of the "father." Near the end, during the Aborigine's cathartic ritual in which he attempts to spear a cow, gunshots by a homesteader kill several animals.
Two small subplots show sexual undercurrents of a group of scientists working in the Outback and a homesteader and his unhappy wife, who have hired Aborgines to make souvenir clay animals for the tourist trade. In the last scene, the "girl" is shown preparing a meal in the kitchen while listening to the radio, as did her mother in an early sequence. According to a modern interview, producer Si Litvinoff stated that many of the filmmakers argued for ending the picture when the children were found on the road, omitting the city epilogue.
As noted by film critic Roger Ebert, who wrote liner notes for the DVD version of the film, the chronology of the movie is not clock-bound, but presented more like the Aborigines' non-linear sense of time. Ebert suggested that the desert in the story was "a mystical place, a place of visions" that was neither the Aborigine's home ground nor the children's, that their time there was a type of "dream" and the two suicides were "the boundaries of reality."
James Vance Marshall is a pseudonym for the Englishman, Donald G. Payne, who also wrote some versions of Walkabout and other novels under the name Ian Cameron. Walkabout, which first appearead as The Children in the Australian magazine Woman's Day with Woman, was a popular juvenile classic in Australia. As noted in the Saturday Review (of Literature) review, the film's adaptors made changes, adding "touches of eroticism that were not...so explicit in the novel." In the novel, an airplane crash left two American children, a twelve-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother, alone in the desert. Also in the novel, the aborigine's death is attributed to the common cold and to autosuggestion, a phenomenon which is implied in the film but not explained.
According to a November 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item, Lee Loeb and Lee Irwin wrote a screenplay based on the novel that they sold to Denis O'Dell, who had lined up Nicolas Roeg to direct. However, Loeb, Irwin and O'Dell's contribution, if any, to the final film has not been determined. In a modern interview, Litvinoff stated that director Roeg had been developing a screenplay for a small studio, National General, and the rights for the product were "entangled" with a company headed by Richard Lester. Unable to get approval to make the film, Roeg asked for the help of Litvinoff, who convinced executive producer Max Raab to help finance the project. According to Litvinoff, clearing the rights for production took another year.
Walkabout marked the first film as sole director for Roeg, who was formerly a cinematographer. Lucien Roeg, who portrayed the "boy," was the son of the director, who had initially considered casting his older son, Nico, in the role, according to Litvinoff's modern interview. According to the studio production notes, David Gumpilil, the aborigine, was a dancer in his small northern tribe before moving to Manninggrieda, Australia, where Roeg discovered him, and had no concrete proof of his age. According to studio production notes, his friend who was fluent in Gumpilil's tribal language, as well as English, served as his interpretor. After his debut performance in Walkabout, Gumpilil continued to appear in films, mostly Australian, and had a significant role in the 1986 Paramount film Crocodile Dundee. Associate producer Anthony J. Hope, who died in 2004, was the son of comedian Bob Hope. Hope's first feature film, All the Right Noises (see entry above) was shot shortly before Walkabout. Although Walkabout marked his second and final feature film as associate producer, Hope became a director of business affairs at Twentieth Century-Fox, and was also involved in politics.
As noted in Filmfacts and corroborated by MPAA records, Walkabout was initially given an R rating on the basis of two nude swimming scenes. According to Filmfacts, critics Judith Crist and Hollis Alpert publicly criticized the rating. An June 11, 1971 Variety news item reported that Raab, Jonas Rosenfield, Jr., who was an advertising publicist for Twentieth Century-Fox, and several others argued the case for an appeal. The Codes and Ratings Appeal Board reversed the decision and awarded the film a GP rating, as a June 23, 1971 Variety news item reported, marking the first time that a vote was unanimously reversed. Walkabout was a British entry at the Cannes Film Festival. A January 1997 Entertainment Today reported that a director's cut on DVD restored five minutes of previously unseen material to the film.
Lucien John, who plays the brother, is the son of director Nicolas Roeg.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Re-released in United States December 27, 1996 (Film Forum; New York City)
Re-released in United States January 17, 1997 (Landmark Nuart; Los Angeles)
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Re-released in United States December 27, 1996
Re-released in United States January 17, 1997
Released in United States June 1996
Previously distributed in the U.S. by 20th Century Fox.
Released in United States June 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (American Cinematheque) as part of program "Jagged Time Lapse: A Tribute to Nicholas Roeg" June 1-15, 1996.)