David Michod’s debut Animal Kingdom was always going to be a hard act to follow – in my opinion it’s oneof the best crime films of the last decade, and one of the best Australian films ever made. The Rover is a messy failure, but I’m still glad he made it. It takes place in the Outback “ten years after the collapse,” and stars Guy Pearce as a grizzled anti-hero trying to recover his car from a gang of thieves. The story is weak and and ultimately doesn’t add up to much, but the world Michod has created is a compelling one. At first glance it appears to be in the same vein as the original Mad Max – a world teetering on the brink of apocalypse, already bad but about to get worse. Gangs rule the highway and the only law is the barrel of a gun. This is neither original or compelling, unless you consider an alternate interpretation.

Most reviewers assume the “collapse” in the title cards is a global one. But nothing in the film actually confirms this. The overheard Chinese radio advertisements and Chinese-branded train carriages guarded by armed mercenaries imply that everything is going fine in China, which is now a dominant economic and cultural power. An assumption of China’s inevitable domination is par for the course in a lot of apocalyptic scenarios these days (see The Bone Clocks), but the second intriguing detail is that everyone in the film who wants to sell something demands US dollars as payment. This suggests that maybe things aren’t too bad in the US, either, and reflects the real world practice in which many impoverished countries, such as Cambodia and Zimbabwe, use the dollar as a de facto currency.

The developing feeling I got throughout the film was that of Australia as a failed state, the kind of violent and dangerous country you can find all over Africa. A land where once the minerals flowed and everybody was well-off, but where the good times have come to an end, and law and order has broken down. The use of foreign currency, the cultural and financial presence of an overseas superpower, corrupt and underfunded soldiers acting as police – all of these things have real-world equivalents, little post-apocalyptic states which grind away with brutality while the rest of the world is still watching Netflix and reading the Wall Street Journal. The Rover is a far more disturbing film when viewed through this lens, as a film which forces the viewer to conceive of their own country as a failed state.

One of the lingering images of the film comes as Pearce’s character stares through a chain-link fence at an open-cut mine’s enormous superpit; an iconic image for modern Australia, one that Australians associate with wealth and prosperity, but which symbolises in The Rover a land of vanished happiness and, perhaps, of squandered opportunities. To that extent, at least, The Rover is a cautionary tale; a rebuke to complacent Australian viewers who assume our economy is untouchable.

London is a hard place to live. Kristie and I already have our eyes on the door at the end of her two-year visa; financially speaking, Australia has come to represent the land of milk and honey. (It does for many Britons, too.) But it’s important to remember that while Australia has always been a prosperous country, its recent wealth is unprecedented. Young adults of my generation, who graduated high school in the middle of a time of unparalleled wealth and economic growth, have to remember that this is the exception, not the rule. In the next decade or so, as the mining boom begins to wind down, life is going to be a lot more like it was for my father’s generation in the 1970s and 1980s – still comfortable, but harder and more uncertain than the Australia we grew up in. Either that or we will in fact utterly squander the mining boom, end up as a banana republic, and engage in blood-spattered gunfights with Mad Max style bandits for our territory’s remaining petroleum resources.

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