Walkabout is introduced in the film as an important period in the life of an Aborigine. A time at the age of sixteen or so that the man-child must survive in the bush by himself for six months. If he survives he is a man, if not...well he really isn't anything because he's probably dead. Going into the film my understanding of Walkabout was sort of a break from white society into the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle for a period of time. The other use of Walkabout that I have heard is in reference to a British Monarch or some higher level of person walking around greeting folks in the public. Director Nicholas Roeg seems to understand the various uses of this word as well and ties them in with the maturation of the film's core characters. The parallels make for some very exciting social commentary and the film subtly layers itself and it's characters further and further. For that, Roeg's film in perspective can be seen as two very different kinds of films and split it's audience enormously. One crowd may say that Walkabout is extremely slow and boring while the other crowd will hail the film as a fantastic artistic achievement. Understandably so for both sides I suppose, but I do count myself among the latter group.
Walkabout follows two young English kids, one a fourteen-year-old girl and the other a six-year-old boy (I think) as they are abandoned in the middle of the vast Australian outback. The abandonment itself is quite perplexing and I was fairly confused as to how it was handled, but you'll see that addressing those unanswered questions is not what Roeg's film sets out to do at all. Placing these children's survival in the arms of a 16 year old aborigine during his Walkabout is the stage that needs to be set to allow for some far more interesting questions that the audience can ask themselves about how we are all living. To paraphrase Lucas Haas in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks", I wish we could all just live in Tee-pees...it would be better that way. Who doesn't wield an idealistic anarcho-primitivist message deep in their hearts? It also makes some outstanding observations on maturing into manhood and womanhood. Anyway, let those inquiries enter your brain how you like, but know that this is a smart film that calls for some patience in exchange for it's great rewards. I'm getting a little fuzzy here and I really don't want to urge my own observations on you.
There are aspects besides its pace that will turn some viewers away. Firstly, the violence against animals is real and pretty hard, so PETA activists beware. Secondly, it was PG when it came out but the nudity shown here from Agutter is actually too graphic for R ratings today. Thirdly; again, this film is not exactly box office gold with its lower budget and slower pace, so if you find yourself unable to sit through films that don't contain explosions or CGI then you should pass as well.
In a simple concluding scene that hits hard for me, the girl is now older and married, and she remembers back to when she didn't understand the things she knows now. It's a simple, melancholy and I believe universal feeling that's part of growing up. Perhaps she loved the aboriginal boy that saved her life and she couldn't understand his advances as a child. Perhaps she would now be willing to cross into that culture as she sees the truth now. Then again, maybe she was just reflecting on what is no doubt a very unique and significant experience to her. Something those who surround her in adulthood could never fully understand. It's a wonderful film and Roeg pulls no punches to give us everything he has and everything he intends to show us.
Many celebrate Walkabout for it's cinematography, and deservably so as its among the most beautifully shot films of it's time...but it's a lot more than that. Walkabout is sad, compelling and thoughtful. I'm glad to see Criterion recognize it with this DVD.