2014 has insofar been somewhat of an artistic renaissance for Australian film. So far this year we’ve seen successful cinema releases of 52 Tuesdays, Tracks, The Babadook, and Healing. Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) won Best Director at Sundance; David Gulpilil (Charlie’s Country) won Best Actor at Cannes. Seventeen Australian films are getting a release in US cinemas this year – the highest number on record. One of these films is David Michôd’s The Rover, a post apocalyptic tale set in an Australia that looks all too familiar, but in a future that’s simultaneously far removed from what we know and all too terrifying prophetic.
Far removed from its outback Australian setting, the film’s genesis is actually in a West Hollywood backyard. Michôd and friend Joel Edgerton got talking about a film for Joel’s brother Nash to direct, when they spent ten days figuring out the basic mechanics of an action story during a visit to LA. “It started with something as loose as ‘cars in the desert’,” Michôd tells me. “I can’t picture where it happened other than us pacing around our friend Spencer’s backyard.” From there, David went away, made the story his own and The Rover began to take shape – “something darker and weirder and more about the stuff that thrills me – creating characters that I want to see great actors bring to life.”
The great actors of the piece are of course, Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Pearce inhabits the Western trope of the Man With No Name, a man driven by revenge as a roaming band of thugs make off with his car. Pattinson is the naive younger brother of the gang’s leader, left for dead until our unnamed man saves him through the promise of reuniting with his vehicle. The story is not a new one, but Michôd’s harsh Australian lens brings a fresh take on a world collapsed. “I knew that i was treading into territory that wasn’t necessary totally unfamiliar, and kind of walking into the world of the Western,” Michôd says. “But when I know that I’m doing something that might be formally akin to something – like a Western – I don’t go out and start watching Westerns. it’s my ultimate aspiration to make something that feels like its own thing, that feels unusual and hopefully feels like a movie that I haven’t seen before.”
While the film takes place in a harsh, distant future, Michôd was intent on keeping the film’s setting as close to reality as possible. “I knew from the outset that I didn’t want to make a film set in a post apocalypse. I knew that I wanted it to be a few decades in the future and after a few decades of pretty profound degradation, but I didn’t want to set the movie on the other side of some totally unimaginable popcorn cataclysm. I wanted whatever had gone wrong with the world in the movie to feel directly connected to everything that’s wrong with it today – whatever you imagine is going to be more powerful than anything I could show you.” The film plays on a familiarity with our country’s harsh centre and turns it into something deeply unsettling – it could very realistically be our country’s future. On the state of our society and if we’re headed for a collapse of our own, Michôd said – “The financial crisis that the world suffered only a few years ago was a direct product of Western economies surrendering themselves to the greed of psychopaths in suits and it would appear that we’ve done virtually nothing to prevent it from happening again. I was redrafting it and redrafting it not long after the financial crisis and also at a time where despite all the evidence to suggest we needed to deal with climate change, we were just going to do nothing about it. It induced in me a kind of despair that i began to funnel into the script and into Guy’s character in particular.”
The Rover is an excellent film and yet another home run for Australian cinema this year. About our industry’s apparent renaissance, Michôd noted “I feel like I’ve been around it and observing our industry for quite a while – it has up years and down years and this year feels like a strong year, definitely. The Australian film industry is pretty strong when you compare it to just about every other national film industry around the world – we have a pretty good strike rate – everywhere else has the same struggles, we’re all competing with Hollywood and basically losing but it doesn’t make it any less important that we continue trying as cinema is such a powerful medium.”
The Rover is currently in cinemas around the country.