A review of “Rabbit-Proof Fence” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG for emotional themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

 

Director Phillip Noyce tugs at the heartstrings and nearly severs them with a true story of an aborigine family who defied an indifferent nation.

Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare.  Australia’s own personal cross to bear is the tragedy of the “Stolen Generation”, half-caste aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families (from 1905 to 1971) and placed in the care of all-white private homes or state run facilities. 

Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi), age 14, her younger sister Daisy Craig (Tianna Sansbury), 10,  and their cousin Gracie Fields (Laura Monaghan), 8, are the product of native aboriginal mothers and the white fathers who have abandoned them. Living in peace in the rugged outback of Australia in the 1930s, the three girls are abruptly snatched from their families and transported 1,500 miles away to the Moore River Native Settlement dormitories, earmarked for training as domestic servants.

Not content with forced labor or restraint, the spirited Molly engineers a group escape from the high-security facility, and the trio begins their arduous journey home.  Without maps or a compass to guide them, the girls simply follow the rabbit-proof fence (stretching from the north to south coasts of Australia in a misguided effort to control the natural environment) that abuts their native home over a thousand miles away.

Hot on the girls’ heels is master aboriginal tracker Moodoo (David Gulpilil), whose desire to do as he is told conflicts with his innate feelings about the girls’ dire situation and their common cultural backgrounds.  Fanning the flames of bureaucracy is pompous Chief Protector of the aboriginal people, Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), who mistakenly presumes that expunging a vividly diverse aborigine culture is in his country’s best interest.

Reminiscent of tension-filled escape/incredible journey films such as Cornel Wilde’s “The Naked Prey” (1966), “The Great Escape” (1963), and “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), “Fence” revels in the agonizing intricacies of surviving against all odds.  Noyce utilizes simple, stylish camerawork and spare dialogue to deliver pregnantly poignant anguish, while the landscape commands the action in all its unforgiving severity.   The concept of obliterating an undesirable third race is rife with horrific implications that too closely resemble Germany of the late 1930s and WWII Pearl Harbor’s Japanese-American incarceration (not to mention contemporary racial-profiling). 

Australia is taking measures to address the social and political controversy surrounding their injudicious official policy and the lost souls who were its victims.  Based on a book by Molly’s daughter Doris Pilkington (now in her 80s), “Rabbit-Proof Fence” is a stirring appeal for the recognition of a squandered generation.