1971 // UK // Nicolas Roeg // May 22, 2010 // Theatrical Print (Webster University Moore Auditorium)
[Walkabout was screened on May 22, 2010 as a part of the Webster University Film Series' retrospective on the early films of Nicolas Roeg.]
The most remarkable thing about Roeg's directorial debut—other than the fact that such an unabashedly poetic and self-assured work could be anyone's directorial debut—is the density of the thing. This is a film that is richly layered with meaning, and yet Roeg achieves such thematic bulk while hewing to an approach that is fairly realistic. Sure, there are heavy-handed cross-cuts, and much gooey lingering on ripe orange sunsets, and narrative digressions that range from the obscure to the weirdly comic. However, there's not much in the film that one could categorize as surrealistic or avant-garde, at least in the mode of Jodorowsky or Lynch (or, for that matter, later Roeg). It's fascinating, then, that there is such ample room for disagreement on what Walkabout is, well, about. There's some embracing and critiquing of cultural myths in there: the ignorant savage, the noble savage, the wilderness as utopia, the wilderness as wasteland. There are obvious themes of colonialism, civilization, and, yes, communication. What resonates strongest for me is the allegory of a sexual awakening (and the fear and confusion it engenders), but this is but one fragment of what makes the film such a compelling experience. Certainly, the closing scenes add a heaping dose of wistfulness, a bittersweet eulogy for those times and places to which we cannot return and are almost certainly idealized in our minds. The thematic correspondence between Roeg's film and Terence Davies' exquisite Of Time and the City is only underlined by their shared quotation (at the end and beginning, respectively) 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.