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The Rover (2nd take)

*heavy sigh* This movie. Have I got a score to settle with this fucking movie.

For those just tuning in, I reviewed The Rover back when it was playing in one of my local theaters. I hated it. I despised this movie with a fiery passion. And immediately after publishing my write-up, I was flooded with comments saying that my review was completely and totally wrong. This is nothing new. I’ve been on both sides of that conversation way too many times to take it personally. But somewhere in the correspondence, two points stuck with me.

First is that The Rover is a road movie by its very nature. I’m honestly quite ashamed of myself that this thought hadn’t occurred to me at the time. Of course, I’m normally averse to road movies: The plot tends to wander as the protagonist does, and I prefer my storylines to be more focused. Still, I felt like a total idiot for not realizing that this was a road movie and judging it accordingly.

Second, somebody invoked the name of Cormac McCarthy and compared his works to this movie. With the exception of No Country for Old Men (specifically the riveting Coen Brothers adaptation), I could never find any use for McCarthy. I’ve never read “The Road” or seen its film adaptation, and I couldn’t possibly have any less interest in a story that’s recommended as “beautiful, but really depressing.” It’s the same problem that I have with the works of Roman Polanski: I don’t care how talented he is as a filmmaker (and he is incredibly talented, I won’t deny that), I have a deep-seated philosophical disgust for an artist who is so relentlessly misanthropic. I cannot support a story that conveys no other message except that life is shit, people are shit, everything is pointless, so just lay down and die already. There is nothing entertaining, educational, or enlightening in that message. I have absolutely no use for it.

Nevertheless, these are both concepts that I had neglected to consider while viewing the movie, even though they seem glaringly obvious in hindsight. This was enough to convince me that I had not done my due diligence and given the film a fair review. So now that some time has passed and the movie is out on DVD, I will do my absolute best to take the film on its own terms and try reviewing it again. And this time, for those who care, I may get into some SPOILERS.

***

Right off the bat, the film is so much better on the second viewing. Now that I know exactly what was in the car and why Eric (Guy Pearce’s character) wanted it so badly, I finally understood that he and all of the other characters have essentially been boiled down to their essence in the wake of the apocalypse. Granted, the movie never specifies precisely what “The Collapse” was, and I still think that was a wasted opportunity to make some greater statement. But of course, that’s not the point.

The point was to show a world stripped to its bare essence, wiped of anything that humanity put in place to make it safe, ordered, and comfortable. Likewise, every single character in this film is little more than an animal, each with only one thin line tethering them to their fomer humanity. Their “luxury item,” if you will. For some, it’s commerce. For others, it’s violence. For a rare select few, it’s caring for others. For Eric, it’s the dog in his trunk and all the memories attached to it. In any case, this one last remnant of humanity is all that the characters have, and they’ll die to defend it. Because without it, they’re better off dead anyway.

It’s frankly quite astounding how far this “luxury item” fixation can go. For example, I still remember flipping out over the scene in which a gas station attendant insists on getting paid in American dollars. This despite the fact that it’s the fucking apocalypse and everyone knows that Australian paper is just as useless as American paper. Eric even says as much. It makes absolutely no logical sense, but that’s not the point. The point is that somehow, it makes sense to the gas station attendant. In whatever’s left of the guy’s damaged mind, he only knows that he needs American dollars. In fact, the need for money seems to be so deeply imprinted into the human psyche that everyone insists on trading bits of paper long after currency has lost its value.

The concept of a guy chasing after his stolen car for unknown reasons is a very weak hook to hang a story on, but it suits the nature of what writer/director David Michod was trying to do. Specifically, he was trying to show us as much of this broken-down world as possible, using Eric and Rey (the latter played by Robert Pattinson) as our guides. I’m glad that I praised the two lead actors so highly in my original review, in spite of everything else I hated about the film, because this second viewing served as a reminder of just how powerful their performances are. Great stuff.

Speaking of Rey, he’s perhaps the one character who doesn’t really know what he’s fighting for. His “luxury item” was his brother (Henry, Scoot McNairy’s character), but that got thrown into question when Henry left him to die. Without that, Rey’s left struggling to find his place in this awful world.

There’s one particularly relevant moment in which Rey muses that things don’t necessarily need purpose. It’s a rather succinct expression of the movie’s attitude toward the pointless nature of existence, and a neat little way of stating how Rey is content just to be alive. Then Rey gets on his revenge kick and ends up shot for it.

The movie still has a ton of flaws, but at least now I recognize that they all come as part of the deal. For example, Eric still has an annoying habit of repeating the same orders and asking the same questions again and again and again. It comes with his overly determined and aggressive nature, granted, but it still gets annoying. There’s also the pacing, which is so dreadfully slow that I could swear it feels like the filmmakers were desperately trying to pad the film out to 100 minutes, and the score is painfully chaotic. Yet these both do so much to establish a tone and set the mood. They mesh perfectly with the stunning camerawork to draw the audience into this hellish wasteland where beauty has gone extinct and morality is barely more than a faint memory.

The Rover is not a bad movie. Whatever statements I’ve made to the contrary, I rescind them entirely. It’s not incompetent, it’s just overwhelmingly unpleasant. I could happily have lived my life without ever seeing this movie, and I strongly doubt that I’ll ever have the urge to see it a third time. However, I am genuinely thankful that I can see and appreciate the artistry and skill on display, even if it took me a second try. And even if I strongly disagree with everything this movie stands for on a philosophical level.

To revise my recommendation, die-hard arthouse geeks should at least give this film a watch. No one else has any reason to bother.

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