In Nicolas Roeg‘s Walkabout (1971), an English teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Lucien John) must make their way out of the Australian outback, and are helped by a virile, humane Aboriginal boy (David Gumpilil). Here, civilization and primitive culture have so much in common they are nearly one and the same, except, as it happens, primitive culture has a moral nobility that civilization will simply never manifest. Screenwriter Edward Bond does the film no favors by arguing such a theme and by making the theme damnably obvious. In other words, there’s no subtlety.
Although the film is remarkable-looking—and not always pleasant-looking—Roeg is a would-be artist ignorant of how to avoid pretentiousness. Hence we see everything from pointless freeze frames to white tree branches which resemble sexy human legs, and we hear ill-fitting choral music. Walkabout, not surprisingly, is sometimes uncomfortably weird.
Jenny Agutter’s acting is fairly successful, but rather too cold. Gumpilil, on the other hand, is lively. Kids are the major characters in Walkabout but, believe me, it’s an adults-only picture—except, well, I can’t imagine anyone but a callow adolescent REALLY enjoying it. Roeg has seen the enemy and it is us Civilizers.