The end, one more time

The end, one more time

Apocalypse imagined is more disturbing than what is revealed in ‘The Rover’

By Michael Nordine 06/12/2014

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Few would argue the latent grimness of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, and yet these overlapping genres are also predicated on a certain hopefulness. Works ranging from “Blade Runner” to “Fallout” suggest that even the end of the world is survivable, albeit for a select few, and that those who do make it through will invariably reform something resembling society. People huddle together in their darkest hours, even if what they’re protecting themselves from is their own folly.

It might take a while to realize that “The Rover” belongs under this umbrella were it not for the title card with which it opens: “Australia, 10 years after the collapse.” After the first few unceremonious murders, it starts to feel like David Michôd’s follow-up to “Animal Kingdom” would be better shorn of any context at all. Having an idea of what’s coming causes you to look at everything through that particular lens, fraught with preconceived notions as it is, rather than slowly piece together the information on your lonesome. Elements that might otherwise be genuinely discomfiting — stilted dialogue, wanton violence, desolate environs, and implications of off-screen atrocities that are far worse than what we actually witness — are rendered silly by how much effort Michôd puts into living up to genre conventions.

The plot, such as it is, concerns a man (Guy Pearce) monomaniacally tracking down a trio of criminals after they steal his car to escape a crime scene. He links up with the younger brother of one of them (Robert Pattinson) en route to getting back his wheels. A lot of people die along the way, but not much changes for anyone who survives. Two years ago, Pearce’s charisma made the patently absurd “Lockout” far more entertaining than it had any right to be; here, his character’s self-seriousness is so emblematic of the film as a whole that it’s impossible for him to transcend the monotonal banality. His weary eyes are those of a man who’s seen the world at its absolute worst and tried to turn away from it for good.

It doesn’t work. Bad things happen when people shoot first and don’t even bother asking questions later, so the most he can hope for is to lash out before being harmed more than he already has. “Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it,” wrote Cormac McCarthy in “The Road”; Michôd would clearly like to match that sort of lyrical desolation, but the unrelenting grittiness of his vision doesn’t allow for much reflection.

“The Rover” takes place in the Outback, which has the benefit of being among a handful of places in the world that probably wouldn’t look especially different in the aftermath of the world’s end. It’s a fitting site for the film’s jagged nihilism, if also a missed opportunity to emphasize that there’s beauty in the natural world even when there isn’t any left among the human one.

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