There are a lot of terrible stories that go untold in the world, and from the opening titles of Rabbit-Proof Fence
which explains a policy of the Australian government that allows them to legally breed out the “black blood” of Australia’s Aborigines, it is clear that this movie is remarkable simply for bringing an appalling, fairly unknown policy to the light of day.
Instead of exploring how the Australian government went about rounding up the Aborigines and actually translated their paper pushing into visible racial results-for instance the way the Third Reich planned and then attempted to eliminate the Jews- Rabbit-Proof Fence
is really about the true story of a 1500 mile journey three “half-caste” girls (Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, and Laura Monaghan) take to escape from a government camp and follow the world’s longest fence all the way back to their homeland. Australian director Phillip Noyce, the man behind more than a couple Hollywood hackworks including The Bone Collector
, briskly moves the girls along, tearing them away from their parents, thrusting them into the government run camp, and then quickly extracting them as they flee both the white Australian police (under the jurisdiction of Mr. Neville played by Kenneth Branagh, the man in charge of the Aborigine program), and an Aborigine tracker employed by the government camp.
If Rabbit-Proof Fence
planned to tackle the treatment of half-castes by the Australian government in a way other than following the bureaucratic decisions and the terrible repercussions of the policy, than three little girls’ survivalist tale through 1500 miles of wilderness seems an ample, more humanistic way of illustrating the effects such a policy. But Christine Olsen’s screenplay, adapting the story from
Doris Pilkington (the daughter of one of the real life girls of the story), fails to capture the difficulty and the incredible perseverance and strong will it would take to cross such an imposing and massive obstacle as the entire width of Australia. During the majority of the journey the girls apparently have it easy, aided by random encounters with kind and generous strangers who pop up here and there in the wilderness. Though their legs get a little scraped and they do look tired, the weight of such an impossible undertaking is almost invisible in the physical aspects of the journey they have to conquer, as they are being continually fed delicious sandwiches and given shelter by anyone they happen across. Thirty minutes into the film the girls run into an Aborigine servant who remarks that they have already trekked 800 miles, a completely surprising number considering the girls not only look like they have only been out for a long stroll, but that Noyce fails to portray just how long, painful, arduous, and mentally tough an 800 mile walk through the desert must have been for the girls, all younger than fifteen.
Philip Noyce’s Hollywood background sneaks its head into this grave subject every once and a while, and is especially noticeable when he tries to sinisterly stylize Mr. Neville’s scenes with extremely crooked angles. Ms. Olsen also gives him demonizingly familiar speeches, which echo almost too strongly of the kind of Nazi beaurocratic government-speak
Branagh used in HBO’s wonderful film Conspiracy
, where he played SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Whether or not the actual Aborigine policy was worded in this manner, Mr. Neville’s dialog is still taken almost word for word from any number of previous films about Nazi Holocaust policies, and Neville’s complete demonization is all the more obvious with Noyce’s horrific choices of how to portray the man. Never the less this story should be told, all the more because it true and also because it opens up a topic barely heard of out of its native country. Luckily Noyce has attached to Rabbit-Proof Fence
two remarkable talents, Wong Kar-Wai’s famous cinematographer Christopher Doyle and Peter Gabriel doing the score. They glaze the film with a considerably beautiful sonic and visual gloss. Combining Gabriel’s pulsating, primal, near ambient score with Doyle’s beautifully lit compositions of his homeland’s wilderness helps make this glorified prison escape movie attain some cinematic meaning, as it at least casts a unique view on the land these children are forced to trek through.