The Rover (Australia, 2014)

The-Rover-Movie-Poster-Art-Outtakes06Directed by: David Michôd. All I needed to know was: Australian post-apocalyptic road movie with Guy Pearce, directed by David Michôd. Yes, please! I’ve been hoping for something new from Michôd ever since I saw his first big breakout movie, Animal Kingdom. Like Animal Kingdom, this is a pretty serene, slow, airy movie that has a lot of tension under the surface, and it kind of leaves you with a sigh of relief when it’s over, but also a kind of nagging disappointment that the big “bang” never came, or at least, not the way you expected it. In that way, this movie just takes all of the (already apparent) Michôdian elements in Animal Kingdom and draws them out, builds them up, matures them, and takes them a bit further. Like Animal Kingdom, the sort of airy quality—the relative scarcity of dialogue, and the muted characterization and pause-heavy nature of that dialogue, the overall slow pace—leaves me feeling like maybe I don’t “get” it, but I fully like it nonetheless. It’s great to see Robert Pattinson again, after Cosmopolis. It looks like he’s trying to be a legit dude, picking smart projects that won’t really make any money, and won’t get any Oscar cred. I admire that, especially from a guy who could easily spend the rest of his life prying money off of stupid teenagers by starring in bad movies. So that’s cool. I guess what I liked most  about this movie was that it presented a vision of a post-apocalyptic world that isn’t super over-the-top, that basically looks like a normal version of our world, but with the glaring difference that there’s a scarcity of resources, and a much more muted, toned down central government apparatus. Basically, this movie is fascinating because it’s the opposite of that other great Australian post-apocalyptic road movie, The Road Warrior (which I’m going to re-watch right away). This is maybe the most daring and jarring part of the film, how it holds back, how it presents a very restrained, muted, modest vision of a post-apocalyptic future. This is a story that could be told in the modern day, the characters living outside the law, on the run in a desolate landscape, etc—similar to Terence Malick’s Badlands. The difference is, the characters in Badlands were outside of the law, but in the world of The Rover, there’s much less law in general. The details really fill this picture in for us: there’s no cops, just the army, and the army isn’t a large, intimidating force, it’s made up of a handful of remnants. And the throwaway line that the cop gives, hinting that they’ll probably just “ship you off to Sydney”, like there is still a central government operating, but it’s in decline, a miniature, patchwork version of a modern, behemoth, NSA, all-powerful government. This doesn’t show a big bang that suddenly ends everything, like most post-apocalyptic movies, but rather this movie is set in the middle of a very slow decline, like it could be set in France in the 3rd or 4th centuries, as the central Roman administration is just kind of slowly petering out. And maybe, in my roundabout and rambling way of saying it, what actually strikes me about this movie is that it’s not really a post-apocalyptic movie at all, but a mid-apocalyptic one, which is pretty much the first one of these I’ve seen. Although, come to think of it, this movie simply captures a lot of the elements of a crumbling society that I’ve seen in a muted form in other movies, but always set in the present day or the past. I get a bit of that feeling from Mike Leigh’s Naked (set in Thatcherite London), the other great Australian road movie that I loved, Last Ride, and even in something like No Country For Old Men, set somewhat arbitrarily in 1980’s Texas. And actually, come to re-think again, there are times when this movie looks like a warped mirror image of Rain Man, how the whole setting and the whole action really just boils down to a character drama wrapped around two characters, one of which is slightly developmentally disabled. That’s about where the comparison stops, because this movie’s two leads are much more mysterious, less filled-in characters, and their dynamic is one that doesn’t really resolve itself in a clean way. I’m going to have to watch this one a second time to really settle it for myself: why did Robert Pattinson switch allegiance against his own brother? And why did Guy Pearce go for the idea? I guess money is the answer to both, money and the perceived slight that Robert Pattinson feels about his brother (another good notch in the resume of Scoot McNairy) leaving him to die to save his own skin. But it still seemed a little sudden and maybe a bit forced, how quick the change was relative to the slow, deliberate pacing of the rest of the film. And the ending was something I’m still struggling with. As my viewing partner put it so succinctly: “Is that why they called it The Rover? Because of his fucking dog?” I guess…yeah? It’s kind of a surprise, jokey, double-entendre ending after this very sombre, serious, violent, brooding film. And it’s poignant, too, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that the big reveal is that this guy was willing to kill dozens of people for the chance to bury his dead dog in the desert (possibly in the same spot where he killed and buried his wife and her lover ten years earlier—if we believe him). It’s not a very satisfying ending, not a satisfying motivation of the character’s actions, but I’m pretty interested in that, too. I appreciate when a film like this will just snub the audience’s nose in their own expectations. Human behaviour is unsatisfying, it is arbitrary, it is absurd, and human motivations very often do not justify human actions. Pretty good.

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One response to “The Rover (Australia, 2014)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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