Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Rover

"There is a hate that burns within
The most desperate place I have ever been
Trying to get back to where I were
The closer I get the worse it becomes
The closer I get the worse it becomes"

NIN - The Big Come Down

It's not Mad Max. Let's get that out of the way. Yes, Australians, yes cars, yes, post-apocalyptic wasteland but! Note the distinct lack of Braveheart.

I don't mean that just literally. Post-apocalyptic movies in general are more apt than other genres to resist the lure of lowest-common-denominator heroics, but even at the height of their popularity during the 80s and early 90s they tended to slip into standard heroic motivation (protection of females and / or offspring) and more often than not tacked on moralizing, happy or hopeful endings incongruous with the concept's general bleakness. Few, like H.G. Wells and Kurt Vonnegut, have ever dared to take the premise to its logical conclusion.

The Rover instead manages a painfully credible post-civilized adventure in which not only the grand ideals and aspirations of the human spirit but also its base obsessions of sex and power have atrophied to perfunctory carnival side-shows. Personal, visceral, just as irrational as befits a tale of human action, the story grinds its way from fight scene to provocation, action and reaction, revenge and escalation, with only a passing glance at the cowboy movie conventions by which we've come to expect such exchanges should be ruled. Its protagonist is not merely an antihero, a bad boy to be tamed by the love of a good woman as per the action movie cliche of "grit" but an internally driven, semi-responsive echo of the growing hollowness around himself. His true motivation isn't even revealed until the very end.

Here I must say... there's a lot of Mad Max in this movie. In the discovery of that mysterious motivation (by the way, do you know what love is?) in the betrayal and guilt that haunts the protagonist, in the breakdown of the moralistic framework to put those in some all-too-familiar perspective, The Rover is, whether consciously or not, no matter how much its creators may protest such accusations, the antithesis of Mad Max. I doubt it's any coincidence that this movie was filmed just as the announcement of Fury Road thundered its way through the industry half a decade ago. The work in itself stands for itself, yet in the context of post-apocalyptic movies its timing and semi-conscious references carry a great deal of "not another one!"

Still The Rover is good enough to achieve a reversal, to make Mad Max (for all its charms) by comparison look like the cheap, malformed, cliched copy of a more original and better fulfilled idea. If you're the type who thinks The Time Machine isn't really complete without culminating in that chilling trip to Earth's final shore, watch The Rover.

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