Rabbit -Proof Fence --- A Cultural Genocide

                           Step Outside your house and start walking. Keep walking. Don't eat or drink anything, save for what you can scrounge up from your surroundings. And take off your shoes, while you are at it. In fact, don't stop this. Keep this up for several months, and you might begin to comprehend the true-life events that drive Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence. In history, indigenous population around the globe were evolving slowly, whether in Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, or America. Then, spearheaded by a wave of intrepid explorers, came the Europeans, spreading out across the world like a plague.

                        It didn't take long before the White Man had conquered those lands where they had any interest in establishing a settlement.In all the continents results were similar : native populations diminished and oppressed, then reduced to second-class citizens in the re-shaped lands that were once theirs. In 1930s Australia, a law existed stating that 'half-caste' children must be separated from their Aborigine families. 

                      The Australian government called it 'Aborigines Act', which made the government the legal guardians of all the native peoples of Australia, which also gave the government the power to remove family members at will. In a misguided effort to 'take in'  the children known as “half-castes”—in other words, those children born of a white parent and a black parent—the government wrested thousands of Aboriginal children from their families and placed them in what were essentially re-education camps so they could learn how to function in white society. This went on for almost 40 years, up until the 1970s.

   In 1931, three Aboriginal girls — fourteen year-old Molly (Everlyn Sampi), her eight-year-old sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury), and their ten-year-old cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan) live near the small depot of Jigalong on the edge of the Gibson Desert with their mothers and grandmother. They are learning tribal lessons passed down through the generations.

                 In Perth, A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) holds the position of chief protector of Aborigines in the state. His job is to implement and supervise the removal of half-caste children from their mothers and send them to a facility where they are trained to do domestic labor. When Neville learns of the three Aboriginal girls in Jigalong, he orders Constable Riggs (Jason Clarke) to forcibly remove them from their mothers and to put them on a train for Moore River Settlement 1500 miles away.   

                   However, unlike so many others, they refused to submit to the Australian government, and within a day of having been placed in the settlement, they escaped. Over a nine-week period, they walked hundreds of miles through harsh conditions following a wire fence that stretched across most of Australia to keep the rabbits out of the farmland (hence the film’s title). This whole time they were constantly tracked by the government who, for public relations reasons, couldn’t stand to let these three girls get away.      

          Acting doesn't get much better than this. The young actresses - all making movie debuts - relate the anguish, determination and fear of their characters with performances that would make any experienced, adult actor proud. The tracker, played by David Gulpilil, says few words, but his performance -- through gestures and expressions -- is unforgettable.)

             The real surprise, though, is Kenneth Branagh, as A. O. Neville, the government's Chief Protector of the Aborigines. Although Mr. Neville is the film’s villain, it is to the credit of screenwriter Christine Olsen, director Phillip Noyce that he is not depicted as a cruel, senseless racist, but rather as a calm, thoughtful man who truly, genuinely felt that he was doing the right thing and that he had these girls’ best interests in mind. This makes him both sympathetic and terrifying, because there are few things more dangerous than misguided intentions that are backed up by moral conviction. 

                Australian director Phillip Noyce, who is best-known for his big-budget thrillers, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, presents a powerful tale of courage and the unflinching quality of the human spirit. The camerawork by Christopher Doyle is such that it never allows the beauty of the Australian outback to eclipse the human element – an impressive feat when considering how glorious the countryside is. The movie could have easily become a  travelogue, but the cinematography makes it a journey of heart and soul. 

              The movie is based on a book by Doris Pilkington, Molly's daughter. In the last scene of the movie,  the real Molly and Daisy appear on screen and we learn about their lives since their daring journey home. And when Noyce shows us the real Molly and her sister, both in their eighties and living on the land they were so desperate to return to, you realize that the most inspirational movies don't have to have wonderful music and great stars to bring a real tear to your eye.

            Rabbit-Proof Fence shows us one of the blind spots in history. At one point, Neville states  about aboriginals "If only they would understand what we are trying to do for them." This same kind of insidious mental attitude was at the heart of the efforts of whites to improve the lives of native people through various socialization programs. The loss of identity is felt by the thousands of Aboriginal children who were force-fit into a white society of which they wanted no part. Powerful nations have always carried out 'loss of identity' through imperialism and colonization. In today's world these things are carried out in a subtle manner. 

              The strength of Rabbit-Proof Fence and its three young heroines is that they never lost sight of who they were. That's a important lesson for everyone, in this globalized and materialized world.


Rabbit-Proof Fence - Imdb


vinay said...

Thanks lot for sharing it...
Your review was very touching....Started to download, it feels I'm gonna cry today evening..

Deepak Karthik said...

Never heard :)Ty for sharing !
sounds very interesting and i guess you have enjoyed writing it :)

Arun Kumar said...

@Vinay, Thank You for the comment.

@Deepak, Thank You, and do watch it.

Anonymous said...

i love the way you narrate .:) Feel like you are born for watching movies and letting ppl know! :)
Good narration.
but one small change it is not 1930's
it is 1930s.

indu chhibber said...

Isn't it ironic--the countries which colonized other countries , plundered their wealth & subjugated the natives;call themselves civilized ?

Unknown said...

hmmmm seems like the heavy sorts,i normally land up crying watching such movies but will still go ahead and watch it..thanks for tempting me to do so by ur lovely review:)

Arun Kumar said...

@Divenita, Thanks for your uplifting comment and for pointing out the mistake.

@indu chhibber, You are right. For them civilization is in neat clothes and religion

@alka, Thanks for your comment. The movie is a bit heavy, but uplifting too and do watch it.