September 10, 2008

Review of Rabbit-Proof Fence

I saw this Australian aboriginal film for the second time Wednesday. It was just about as good as I remember it. Here's the scoop:

Plot summary for Rabbit-Proof FenceThis is the true story of Molly Craig, a young black Australian girl who leads her younger sister and cousin in an escape from an official government camp, set up as part of an official government policy to train them as domestic workers and integrate them into white society. With grit and determination Molly guides the girls on an epic journey, one step ahead of the authorities, over 1,500 miles of Australia's outback in search of the rabbit-proof fence that bisects the continent and will lead them home. These three girls are part of what is referred to today as the 'Stolen Generations.'

Western Australia, 1931. Government policy includes taking half-caste children from their Aboriginal mothers and sending them a thousand miles away to what amounts to indentured servitude, "to save them from themselves." Molly, Daisy, and Grace (two sisters and a cousin who are 14, 10, and 8) arrive at their Gulag and promptly escape, under Molly's lead. For days they walk north, following a fence that keeps rabbits from settlements, eluding a native tracker and the regional constabulary. Their pursuers take orders from the government's "chief protector of Aborigines," A.O. Neville, blinded by Anglo-Christian certainty, evolutionary world view and conventional wisdom. Can the girls survive?

Three little girls. Snatched from their mothers' arms. Spirited 1,500 miles away. Denied their very identity. Forced to adapt to a strange new world. They will attempt the impossible. A daring escape. A run from the authorities. An epic journey across an unforgiving landscape that will test their very will to survive. Their only resources, tenacity, determination, ingenuity and each other. Their one hope, find the rabbit-proof fence that might just guide them home. A true story.
User CommentsIn Australia no less, I was shocked. In the first ten minutes of the movie I was in tears, as I watched I toiled along with the girls and fed them and cried with them felt fear for them and with them, smiled at some things too. Took me off guard and broke my heart, where as in America we took the Native Americans and did the almost the same thing. I'm left shaking my head and wondering when does it end or will it ever. Great movie very thought provoking will tell all my Aussie friends to be sure and see it if they haven't already.The Movie Report:  Rabbit-Proof FenceSuch an amazing true story leaves many opportunities for overblown melodrama, but Noyce's naturalistic restraint is what makes the film resonate so strongly. Even the normally hammy Kenneth Branagh, as the government official who starts the program, is held in check and is all the more creepily effective for it. As the leader of the girls, Everlyn Sampi is a true discovery, and her forceful, charismatic presence keeps the audience involved in the arduous journey every step of the way.And from a review on such an emotional wallop that it leaves you reeling....It may be one of the greatest movies ever made about the "white man's burden."Too true.

It's tough to find a less-than-glowing review. Here's one that gives Rabbit-Proof Fence a B+ rather than an A:

Rabbit-Proof FenceRabbit-Proof Fence only touches upon the rigors of survival the children must have faced on their long walk home. Details like the ravages of their journey and the physical toll it must have taken on these kids is given short shrift, but this lack of detail has the benefit of moving things along briskly. More elements about Molly survival skills would not have hurt the film in the least.

Everlyn Sampi does a very good job giving depth to Molly. Noyce elicits a performance that is punctuated with the young actresses fiercely expressive eyes. Little Tianna Samsbury is adorable as the youngest, Daisy. Kenneth Branagh lends his internationally known name and his fine acting to make A.O. Neville a well-meaning but despicable (to us liberals) man who personifies the racist attitudes of the time. David Gulpilil, the veteran Aborigine character actor, is underutilized as the tracker.

The inspirational story, the plucky determination of the kids, the glimpse into another country sordid, racist past, and good production values make up for the minor shortcomings of Rabbit-Proof Fence.
Rob's review:  I agree with all of the above. The comments pretty much say it all. But I'll add a few thoughts:

  • The Australians erected a fence that literally spans the country. It's an excellent example of Euro-American hubris. Only Westerners would think of trying to split nature into two separate halves.

  • I don't know if any child has ever given a better performance than 12-year-old Everlyn Sampi, a complete novice at acting. I wouldn't have hesitated to give her an Oscar nomination or the equivalent. I want to see her in something else.

  • Rabbit-Proof Fence's indictment of Australia's child-stealing era is devastating. Especially since the white people aren't portrayed as evil and think they're doing the right thing. They genuinely don't know any better.

  • The DVD commentary hints that the reality was more complex than portrayed in the movie. Full-caste (full-blooded) aborigines may have been prejudiced against half-caste children. Removing the half-caste children gave them a chance to lead productive lives. Etc.

    But there's still no justification for what happened. About the only excuse for kidnapping is removing children from imminent harm. "Protecting" them from the racist system the white Australians foisted on them doesn't qualify.

  • About the only reason I wouldn't give Rabbit-Proof Fence a higher rating is that there isn't that much drama on the long walk. A kind stranger helps them whenever they grow hungry. The expert tracker keeps missing them. Etc.

    The screenwriter could've invented a few perils to ratchet up the excitement level. But I suppose it wouldn't have been true to life then. Oh, well.

  • The "Making of" featurette on the DVD is definitely worth watching. It's just as interesting as the movie. You can see why the young actresses were chosen; they radiate raw talent.

  • Rob's rating:  8.5 of 10. Check it out.

    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    The story's gripping beginning:

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