The Rover (2014)

Directed by David Michôd

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It’s ten years after the “collapse,” somewhere in Australia, and a sullen figure, Eric (Guy Pearce), just wants his car back.  It’s stolen from him by a ragged group of survivors, and Eric will spend the rest of the film tracking them down.

To do this he enlists the help of Rey (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one in the group, presumably left for dead.  Eric works to get Rey medical attention and then demands information on his brother’s whereabouts.  Rey becomes a loyal aid, though you get the sense he doesn’t truly understand what he’s doing.  He is in many ways the Lennie to Eric’s George.

As this road strip story moves forward, Eric and Rey will have ample time to sit by a late night fire and express their respective views on the world.  We don’t know what caused the collapse of civilization, but we do know that enough time has passed for the characters to adapt to this new circumstance.  Where Rey holds onto some optimism, Eric has a strict survivor’s attitude, suggesting that no one can be trusted and no joy again felt.

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By the end of the film Eric will have pulled Rey over to his side.  They eventually catch up to Rey’s brother and the other three men who stole Eric’s car, and the third act climax ends with disastrous, though predictable, results.

Eric will finally face Rey’s brother who demands to know what Eric has done to him.  In a movie filled with striking, sudden violence, it’s not the blood that shocks our stoic main character but a realization that he was wrong about some of the people left in the world.  Eric’s pessimism and world weariness prove, at least for one moment, to have been a miscalculation, and it’s his indoctrination of Rey, once the optimist who has now hardened in Eric’s image, that gets the young man killed.

The world of The Rover is a combination of The Road, The Book of Eli and Mad Max: Fury Road.  These are desolate, dusty, dry wastelands where humans live like outlaws as they seem to have done in the old west.  They’re grimy, bearded, sullen and often move in a straight line, on some kind of stubborn trajectory forward even when they have little to no hope to speak of.  These characters, I suppose, find strength and meaning in their simplistic goals.  Fury Road, after all, was about a set of characters racing from point A to point B and then heading right back from point B to point A.

Most of the time these goals boil down to survival.  All the characters can do is stay alive, and anything beyond that, anything resembling joie de vivre, is gone.  They live because they’re alive, and it’s almost as if the only reason they haven’t killed themselves is because it doesn’t occur to them.  These characters survive in the same ways feral wolves survive.  It’s in their/our nature to keep on keeping on.

So oftentimes there is no nuance to these characters or the world.  There is a lot of interesting, pieced out world building in The Rover, but for Eric his goal is simple.  In an effort to accomplish that goal he acts in accordance with a moral code etched in stone long before.

Eric will explain to Rey and to another character his views on this world.  We see him kill more than a handful of people in cold blood, and he will claim to have murdered his wife and her lover a decade before.  When Rey accidentally kills a young girl and says he can’t get the image of her out of his head, Eric will say that he shouldn’t forget because such is the price of taking a life.  This kind of moral authority, of course, only after we see him cold-heartedly shoot and kill multiple people.

Eric doesn’t struggle with these decisions and actions because he knows, or thinks, that this is what it takes to survive.  It’s not until the very end of the movie that he begins to waver, questioning the code which has until now worked in his favor.

The Rover is a grim movie and an interesting take on the apocalyptic movie genre.  Even in Australia there is some semblance of commerce (people who prefer American dollars), apparent multiculturalism and some kind of rag tag military force trying and often failing to uphold law and order.  There are people who give our main characters kindness and others who would sooner shoot them than barter.

We don’t see the whole world, of course, but only what Eric comes across.  In this way the film is like a video game, the map growing wider only with the avatar’s movements.

Up Next: Poltergeist (1982), Outside Providence (1999), Red Dawn (1984)

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