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The Rover – Roaming in the Haunted Land
Michôd's Haggard Apocalyptic Movie Is A Deliberate Counterpoint Of Mad Max
by Márton Jankovics
Ever since the Mad Max series it has been a cliché how suitable is the cineramic doomsday for Australia, a land thriving in barren landscapes and deserted highways. Apocalypse, unsuprsisingly, became an important export asset of the film industry of the country. This theme floats above the plot even when the genre of the film is western (The Proposition) or family drama (Animal Kingdom).
However, the fact of the apocalypse is not only carried in The Rover as a latent disease, but is maintained as a fact, following the path laid out by Mad Max. The onset is followed by the lean disclosure that the plot is now ten years beyond the otherwise undisclosed ''collapse''. What that means, remains almost completely unknown even later, as the film is hardly less laconic as its mysterious protagonist, Eric, who makes the Man with the Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West a lazy tattler. We can only guess around about the fate of the other continents, and also only half a sentence is muttered in the topic of hard life in the remaining cities. The intentional lack of information proves to be a powerful tool, preparing the frustrating revelation: this post-apocalyptic world lies disturbingly close to our own reality. No nuclear explosions can be seen, no natural cataclysm happens, nor a global zombie outbreak is shown, and even the prospect of the final exhaustion of the planet is missing to stand guard on the border of reality and fantasy.
The world is not ended with an explosion common for the genre, but with low-pitched whining – if it is ended at all. For a lot of business goes on as usual: global money circulation is not suspended, just transformed; the multicultural melting pot keeps boiling, and even there is a military force patrolling the prarie with its own unclear intentions and competency. In addition, the entire film lacks the scenical view on the ending of the world: no spectacular adventurousity and baroquesque barbarism of Mad Max is shown, just thin minimalism, which pushes even the most extreme state of emergency to the level of grey everyday routine. The delimination from the great predecessor is made unambiguous in the very beginning: not only some Holdens and Nissans take the place of the awesome tribal vehicle compositions, but also is the slow car chase of the exposition seems to be the intentional antithesis to the wild races of the Mel Gibson-movie. Not to mention that the only car crash during the 103 minutes of playtime is sarcastically drawn to the background by the director.
The already mentioned Eric crosses this disintegrating society, accompanied by a mildly more talkative companion, Rey, both searching the same person – Rey's brother – for absolutely different reasons. Their motives are far from definite, yet they are pushed aside by a far more important question: the stake of the journey is not whether their quest ends successfully, but if any kind of trust can be rekindled in this haunted country, or the drought of nihilism would kill all human interaction beyond mere combination.
The bleak scenery combined with industrial music is a perfect way for the creation of the mood of the film, still, the vitalisation of the almost too minimalistic plot is carried out by the two protagonists. The smashing acting by Guy Pearce is not surprising at all, as he is not displayed in such a role for the first time. Director David Michôd tells in an interview that the spent, wry character of Eric was specifically designed for Pearce. Robert Pattinson seemed to be a more risky pick, however, following Cosmopolis by David Cronenberg, the pretty guy of the Twilight-films stands his ground, getting auspiciously away from the gravitational field of the sentimental vampire saga. (One of the rare humorous moments in the film is when Pattinson sings along with the radio the chorus of „Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful” in the desert night.)
The Rover proves to be a positive confirmation in the case of the young English star, and it is also assured that the first film, Animal Kingdom by director and scriptwriter David Michôd was not simply a flash, and that Michôd, alongside John Hillcoat is the most promising contemporary Australian filmmaker.