A sixteen-year old girl and her younger brother are stranded in the Australian outback after their fathers suicide. The pair fall in with an aborigine youth.
Nicolas Roeg's second feature as director (and first solo effort) is deceptively simple: children from two different cultures survive in the desert. The title is an aboriginal term, referring to a time of reflection and testing spent apart from the tribe; the city kids' spell in the wild should serve as a walkabout of their own, but they only almost learn something which haunts the girl when she returns to her society to get on with ordinary life.
It's a deep film, but also elusive, accepting that some mysteries can never be solved – the story begins and ends with deaths we don’t have enough information to ‘understand’.
If the novel were remade conventionally, the picture would be full of exciting wilderness perils and go heavy on a Blue Lagoon-style affair between the repressed miss and the nature boy, but Roeg takes a more elliptical, enigmatic approach.
A drama of transformation and tragedy is played out through apparently thrown-away dialogue, footnote-like scenes which provide a 'civilised' contrast with wilderness behaviour (Gumpilil's spearing and bludgeoning of a kangaroo with a butcher impersonally chopping cuts of meat) and documentary footage of crawling lizards and swarming insects.
The normal skills associated with 'acting' aren't required and Roeg cast two of the major roles with players who had never acted before, the aborigine dancer Gumpilil and his own son Luc.
The film lives in the fantasies of a generation because Agutter, in and out of school uniform (she has a famous nude swim), emerged from her prim Railway Children image to be strikingly sensual.
Dated but still shows the promise that Jenny Agutter showed at this age.