Set in Australia's bleak outback, this 2002 film takes place in 1931, when white bureaucrats forced their own morality on aboriginal half-castes living in the bush. Believing that these half-white children "deserved" the "advantages" of "civilization," and convinced that in three generations their blackness could be "bred out," the Australian government forcibly removed them from their families, brought them to settlements hundreds of miles from their homes, and trained them to be domestic servants. Forty years later the government finally abandoned the policy, leaving a "Stolen Generation" in its wake. Molly Craig has long been the symbol of the Aborigines' refusal to accept this genocidal policy, and this film, brilliantly directed by Philip Noyce, celebrates her unconquerable spirit in the face of sanctioned governmental cruelty.
Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi), her cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan), and her sister (Tianna Sansbury), aged thirteen to eight, are cruelly removed from their mothers in Jigalong (Western Territories) and taken a thousand miles to the Moore River Native Settlement, which is directed by the self-righteous Mr. Neville (convincingly played by Kenneth Branagh), who believes in the inherent correctness of the resettlement policy. Placed in overcrowded dormitories, prohibited from using their own language, and required to live according to another world's rules, Molly, her sister, and her cousin decide to escape by following the 1500-mile "rabbit-proof fence," which borders both the settlement and their distant home. They must avoid detection by a hired Aborigine tracker (played menacingly by David Gulpilil) and by government workers and white settlers. For nine grueling weeks, the girls live virtually on their own, surviving through their ancestral knowledge of the land.
Written by Molly Craig's daughter, Doris Pilkington Garimara, who, later, was also removed from her mother Molly and forced to live in a settlement, the film is a moving celebration of the human spirit, a tribute to Molly Craig, and a plea to acknowledge the rights of aboriginal peoples, wherever they may live. The harsh and unforgiving land is beautifully photographed, and the haunting music of aboriginal voices and instruments in the Golden Globe-nominated score by Peter Gabriel further the realism. The cast of young girls, all making their film debuts, never makes a misstep, conveying the trauma of their separation, their commitment to returning home, and, in Sampi's case, an anger which is only barely hidden. Branagh, though effective, really does not have to do much to be the villain here. In this beautifully realized depiction of a wrong-headed policy, director Noyce wisely chooses not to embellish the message with unnecessary, artificial melodrama--reality here is drama enough. Mary Whipple