The Empty Balcony: The Rover

I love a good post-apocalyptic tale. I have a pessimist’s fascination with the myriad ways everything can go wrong. Global catastrophe for the human race holds the same place in my mind as standing at the edge of a precipice and picturing flying off into the void. This isn’t a sign of some psychological damage or misfiring neurons. This isn’t a mental illness or a death wish. It’s just human nature to be drawn in wonder to these things. Some of us feel the pull more than others, but that doesn’t mean we want it to happen.

Because the world after is a popular subject here in the States, I’ve thought about how I would fare. Is it wise to be living in a city when society collapses? Probably not. How about less than forty miles from a nuclear plant? There are safer places to be during the zombie apocalypse. Is it a good sign for my survival that my refrigerator is mostly empty and there is only one can of food in my kitchen cupboard? Definitely not. I’m such a 21st century, all needs nearby, city-dwelling citizen that even momentary disruptions in the infrastructure of survival wreak havoc. I think most of us are like that. Most of us just don’t want to invest in a fully stocked fallout shelter, or even enough food to last being snowed in for a while.

So maybe there’s a sense of danger to enjoying these stories. Not preparing for the future is the most daring thing we humans do. There are the consequences played out on the silver screen, in a game, in words. We can watch or we can read, and we can keep pretending that everything will be all right out here in the real world. It will, won’t it?

The Rover, written and directed by David Michôd, is set in Australia, ten years after the collapse. Whatever the collapse was is not revealed, but it appears that Australia has somehow become a failed state. There are still police, but they are few, of little power, and have to deck themselves out like soldiers to stay safe. American dollars are the preferred currency, pointing to some economic calamity, and also a sign that whatever happened, the States escaped. Long trains painted with Chinese characters and carrying minerals snake through the outback, with each car guarded by private security straight out of news reports from Baghdad, circa 2006. Companies hiring their own armies like that points to a government having lost the monopoly on legitimate violence, and companies having to seek protection outside of the law.

The land of The Rover is parched, starved, beaten and rundown, and is a true representation of a feckless state. Libertarians, take note.

In this world exists Eric (Guy Pearce), just another bloke looking for a drink, when someone steals his car, and Eric embarks on a mission to get his vehicle back that smashes all bounds of expectation. Eric will kill anyone, without hesitation, who keeps him from his car. He’s really bent out of shape about losing it.

Along the way he picks up Rey (Robert Pattinson), an American whose brother happens to be one of the fellows who stole Eric’s car. Eric kidnaps and threatens Rey, but it isn’t long before Eric’s twisted outlook begins to infect Rey and the two enter into bizarre alliance. Rey is more than just an impressionable youth. He’s stupid and malleable. His actions and the reasons for them are even more opaque than Eric’s, and that is saying something, indeed.

Location is always as much a star of these types of films as are the actors, and the location scouts in this film did themselves proud. The small, dusty towns they found convey the worst of third-world hopelessness, and that’s what post-apocalyptica really is. The setting, as much as the characters who reside there, do as much to draw the viewer in and show them that the people in this film are alone. No one will help them. No one will care. No one will stop them from doing whatever it is they want, as well. At one point, near the final act, Eric explains just what it means to live without real law and order, and it is incredible.

Pearce’s performance was the standout amongst the two stars. Eric is an awful human being, and without redemption, something we don’t get a lot in our movie heroes. But he seems the kind of person his world would breed. Whatever notions he may have had about life and society have been shattered. Many hard lessons were learned, and now he applies them with brutal force. Eric will never be a victim again, but by now, it’s too late. His humanity fled long ago.

Pattinson did the best he could with Rey, but he did a little too much acting. Rey’s a dimwit, sure, but his mealy-mouthed speech is a little over the top, as is his constant need to fiddle and twitch. It was a good performance, but it was obviously a performance, and we at Missile Test are big fans of naturalistic performances. With Guy Pearce, I saw Eric. With Robert Pattinson, I saw Robert Pattinson as Rey. It’s a subtle difference of skill that even some of Hollywood’s best talents fail to master, so not that big a deal.

The Rover flew under the radar here. I only heard of it because someone on a movie forum mentioned it. Every critic out there seems to love it. This pretend critic thought it was pretty damned good, too.