My humblest apologies for the hiatus.
Since the advent of the millennium, we have been inundated with post-apocalyptic films, books, games, and even cosplay. If this proliferation of media is any indication, the West is smothered in the feeling that things are bad and will get worse until a final apocalyptic break. Upon first glance, The Rover (2014) seems to be yet another attempt to show the ultimate absurdity of the human condition and the fragile veneer of civilization that is crusted over the violent primate id.
The Rover depicts Eric (Guy Pearce), a somber loner with a past whom we first men in a Chinese bar in the middle of the Australian Outback. Eric’s car is stolen by a band of resourceful but rough-edged unprofessional thieves who crash their truck outside the bar. Eric takes off after the thieves on a slow, bitter quest that involves picking up Reynolds (Rey), played by Robert Pattinson, a slow minded American who had come to work in the Australian mines but ends up a clumsy thief. As the reader might imagine, the movie ends up in a shootout and pile up of dead bodies—followed by a shocking, nihilistic twist.
What makes The Rover unique is that it depicts a world not after an immediate, total apocalypse, but a world that has slowly declined and run out of gas but not fallen of the edge. It seems that food is scarce but accessible. There is extreme violence and brutality, but no starvation-induced cannibalism or the creation of “made from scratch” communities. Rather China has colonized Australia and uses Australians to police other Australians who largely, with the exception of Eric, maintain some semblance of continuous civilization.
Unlike the poisonous scorched landscape of Fall Out and The Road, The Rover has a slumberous, twilight or dawn feel. There is not necessarily a message but rather an effected emotion. Australia and the West in general has fallen asleep, is numb, and is slowly drowning in ennui. Yet, this ennui is rough and brutal, lacking the cerebral but terse articulation of thinkers like Baudelaire, Sartre, and Camus. There is child prostitution, murdered circus midgets, and rooms full of abandoned caged and subdued dogs.
Like many American post-apocalyptic works, The Rover is surprisingly patriotic. The fact that China has colonized Australia is not projected as a good thing in the movie—it is a looming foreign presence whose violence is muted and never revealed but lurks in the background. The fact that American currency is more powerful than Australia annoys Eric who transitions from a slice of patriotic Australian rhetoric to an almost childish and redundant meditation on the worthlessness of money. While Reynolds is able to finesse some directions from a somewhat amiable Chinese restaurateur, there is an odd meditation on the strange future of the colonizers become the colonized. However, China as an imperial power mostly lurks in the distance as a God-like power.
Strangely, on the second viewing of the fine film, the nihilistic message seems to be undermined by the contrast between Eric and the other characters, who, although “bad guys”, have not completely abandoned any ethical code. Eric is unquestionably a psychopath, and, as it progresses, the movie becomes less about the irredeemably violent nature of human life than a critique of the aggression of Indo-European males. Eric is an alpha who takes Reynolds under his wing, attempting to crush his belief in God and severe his loyalty to his family, but ends merely getting a lot of people killed unnecessarily.
Is The Rover worth a watch? If you, dear reader, are prone to melancholy like your humble writer, then “no.” However, as a window in the savagery and indifference of the contemporary European male (whether he lives in the vaterland or one of the colonies), the Rover is worth it.