Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rabbit-Proof Fence - Movie Review

This is a 2002 movie set in Australia in the 1930s based on a book 'Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence' by Doris Pilkington Garimara. Its the story of how three Aborigine girls Molly (14), Tracie (10) and Daisy (8), walk 1500 miles over nine weeks to go back home from the reform home they have been sent to. It is based on a true story. Koni recommended it to me strongly many times before, recalling the days he spent in Australia as a student, and I am glad I finally got to see it. Thanks Koni.

All the Aborigines in Australia in the 1930s were apparently under the care of their 'protector', one Mr. Neville, a white man, in Australia. The 'Protector' Mr. Neville has certain ideas about half-castes, children born out of one white parent and one aboriginal parent, and he feels that he has a duty to protect the aborigines from themselves. His idea is that half caste children must be bred out of existence and to serve this end, he has the powers to identify all half-caste children, forcibly take them away from their families and sent to a re-education school where they are trained to become slaves to the English masters. All this was true, and probably continued until the 1970s.

Molly, Daisy and their cousin Tracie, half caste children, are taken away forcibly from their mothers and grandmother in their village Jigalong. It is a heart rending scene to see the children being taken away from their parents and knowing perhaps that they may never see one another again. They are sent to the camp at Moore River where they are taught English, taught to pray and educated to become slaves and servants. But after a few days the girls, led by Molly decide to escape and walk the distance of 2400 kms back to their home. They run away, and are tracked by an expert aboriginal tracker, Moodoo. Mr. Neville raises alarm and has the police as well after the three girls.

The three girls find some unlikely help from strangers along the way and come across the rabbit-proof fence that runs across Western Australia to keep rabbits from the crops. They know their home Jigalong is to the North of the rabbit proof fence and if they follow it, they would be home. Escaping the tracker, the police, finding food, carrying the  younger one when necessary, the girls make most of the distance before Tracie is tricked into splitting from the others as one of the strangers they meet tells her that her mother is in Wiluna, a place she could reach by train. Tracie is captured at the railway station and once again it kills you to see the young 10 year old being separated from her cousins. Tracie never makes it to Jigalong and probably ends up as a servant somewhere. The other two girls survive the desert and reach their mother at Jigalong after walking along the rabbit-proof fence for nine weeks. The two children, their mother and grandmother escape into the wild. The movie ends with recent and real life footage of Molly and Daisy in their old age.

The book 'Following the Rabbit-Proof Fence' is written by Molly's daughter. Apparently Molly and her two children were captured once again later on by the protector and his forces and sent back to Moore Camp. Molly escaped once again with her three year old Annabelle and followed the rabbit-proof fence back home. However Annabelle was taken from her once again and she never saw her again. The closing shots of Molly and Daisy show the two survivors walking the wilderness.

'Rabbit-Proof Fence' reminds you of how the powerful always use their power and force to make up perverted and cruel laws in the name of protecting the poor and the defenceless. There is no doubt that any man who is entrusted the power of being the 'protector' of all aborigines in Australia, would come up with schemes such as the ones Neville does for the half castes. You can't blame him - its the absolute power that they assume that makes them think like the devil. The poor families, aboriginal mothers, suffer twice. Once at being raped in most cases by the white men and then at having their kids being taken away as they are half castes. The cruelty of the state in its assumptions that it knows best how to make its society - making of slaves and servants for themselves by separating the children forcibly from their parents is never more starkly shown than in this movie. Poor, starving, uneducated they may be - but the children deserve to be with their parents, who are all the world they know. The look in the eyes of the children when they are stolen from their parents haunts you forever.

The Aborigines of Australia who suffered this fate were named the 'Stolen Generations'. I suspect no apology would have been made to them. In fact I am sure that many would feel that they had done all this to protect the Aborigines, to uplift them, from themselves. Imagine if the same thing were done to a white family by the Aborigines.

The girl who played Molly, Everlyn Sampi, completely killed me with her strong performance. Her eyes, her body language, she is fantastic all through and you never ever doubt that she would be outwitted or cowed down, even by the great desert. I fell in love with her completely (she got the best actress award for this role). The girl who played Daisy was really cute and so was Tracie, all the kids were absolutely fantastic. Tightly made, with no extra melodrama, 'Rabbit-Proof Fence' shows us the great outdoors of Australia beautifully in stunning visuals and also the ugly underbelly of our societies and the way the poor are always taken advantage of, oppressed and suppressed by the state and its own ill-conceived, convoluted and self-serving laws. I could not help but think of the recent Norway affair when the state took away the children of parents of Indian origin so they could get better care. A wonderful movie and one that must be watched. It sucks you in and never lets you go until the end.


Prasanna Kumar said...

WOW. I saw this movie just few weeks back and I was wondering why no one wrote any good review.

This is the best review for this movie hari sir.

The movie itself is fantastic, one of many untold true stories of Australian Aborigines.

Do watch the movie Australia also.

Harimohan said...

Dear Prasanna,
I loved the movie. I also watched 'Australia' and was totally impressed with it. The scene with the boy at the edge of the cliff is amazing and one of those one never forgets. Thanks for your kind words and do share more good movies you have seen.