The Long Way Home 

A review of Rabbit-Proof Fence

*Rabbit-Proof Fence (PG)
Miramax Films

This movie is a parent's nightmare. The one where you wake up in a cold sweat dreaming that strangers have raced by in an automobile, snatched up your children and taken them far away, never to be seen again.

Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Phillip Noyce (who also directed The Quiet American, which is playing concurrently at Kimball's Twin Peak), is that nightmare writ large.

From 1905 to the 1970s, the Australian government enforced a policy to forcibly take the children of aboriginal people from their parents, put them in boarding schools and then hire them out as domestic servants. Based in part on the international eugenics movement (tenets of which were endorsed by the most liberal social reformers) the Australian government line was that the aboriginal people were soon to die out and "rescuing" these children from their parents was a kindness to those children. The government would hasten that dying out by forbidding "half-castes" (children with one white parent) to marry full-blooded aborigines, with the idea that over only two more generations, their offspring would be entirely white. (This should sound familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of American social history.)

One such half-caste child was Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi), who, in 1931 was snatched away from her nomadic aboriginal family along with her sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan). Rabbit-Proof Fence is based loosely upon the memoir written by Molly's daughter Doris Pilkington. Taken from their mothers and grandmother (their white fathers had long since disappeared), they were shipped to the militaristic Moorhead River School some 1,200 miles away.

Despite the threat of terrible punishment, Molly led her sister and cousin on an odyssey back to Jigalong, following the "rabbit-proof" fence that the Australian government had erected across the entire country to try to keep out those non-native invaders.

Rabbit-Proof Fence is essentially a chase movie, albeit one created in slow motion. As such, there is little in the way of deep characterization: Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), the bureaucrat charged with overseeing the protection (read: kidnapping) of Australia's "half-castes" is an unsmiling villainous villain; Molly's mother and grandmother are mourners in the best Greek tragedy tradition; and the girls themselves have few distinguishing characteristics other than being determined and beautiful and coming in small, medium, and large.

Such lack of characterization doesn't detract from the overall effectiveness of this or any chase film, for its meaning is more about motion and place -- the movement across a landscape, the means taken to move, and the toll that movement takes upon the hunter and the hunted. Molly's cleverness in hiding the girls' tracks is almost matched by the aboriginal hunter Moodoo (wonderfully acted by David Gulpilil), but skill and luck stay on her side. The landscape of Australia, in all its beauty and harshness, is gorgeously rendered by cinematographer Christopher Doyle in long scenes where the girls trudge across the rocky landscape, appearing at times more like emaciated Giacometti statues than children. Young Molly holds the camera's gaze with a quiet aplomb that dignifies her every move.

So, here are two pieces of advice about going to see Rabbit-Proof Fence. Because it is a beautiful telling of a terrible story, go with a friend who will understand why you might be crying. Second, leave the film and go straight to Kimball's wine bar. Have a glass or two. You'll probably need it.

-- Andrea Lucard


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