“Not everything has to mean something,” Rey (Robert Pattinson) explains to Eric (Guy Pearce) in the new movie by David Michôd, The Rover, which opened earlier this year in 2014. Except, I don’t think even Rey believes what he says in that moment. He just hates silences and can’t justify his own mind when it explores itself and he seemingly tells stories that have no point to the moment he’s in right now. When Eric asks him why he’s telling him these things, Rey says what he believes to be true, that not everything has to mean something. But, we all know in a movie like The Rover, everything means something.
Consider the importance of the car that Eric spends the entirety of the movie trying to get back from a gang of thieves. It means something. If not to us, than certainly it does to Eric. Consider the dogs that have to be kept in kennels because people in Australia, 10 years after the enigmatic “collapse”, will eat them; tears well in Eric’s eyes as he watches them in their cages, kept safe and loved. It means something. Consider, finally, when Rey tells Eric that he wants to forget about a death he caused and Eric tells him that he shouldn’t forget–that’s the price you pay when you take someone’s life.
Movies like The Rover are all too rare. It makes me sad when I think about how little-seen this movie is going to be, lost among a sea of bloated, big-budget movies that have no passion for existing, existing only to make money for studios that already have untold millions. Every year, you constantly hear the movie-going public bemoan the new announcement of the Summer Movie Crop. “Everything’s a sequel, prequel or a remake,” they’ll say. But then, when a movie like this comes out, wholly original and never lacking in imagination, it goes largely unseen and falls into obscurity. It’s a shame, really. It’s probably playing at your local theater right now and you can go see it. It’s not too late to rally the troops and spread the word on this sucker, make it a sleeper success.
Paraphrasing something that Vince Gilligan said to express his method of divulging the plot to an audience, you can very easily tell the audience that A + B equals C, but if you let them know that A is being added to B and they figure out all on their own that the answer is C, they’ll love you for life. The Rover works on that kind of mutual trust between the storyteller and the viewer. You know something bad happened to the world and that’s why there exists this semi-dystopian dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed world, but you don’t know what. Does it really matter? You know that the three thieves who abscond with Eric’s vehicle did something bad, very, very bad, but you don’t know what. Again, does it matter? A line of dialogue could have been inserted somewhere to completely overexplain everything to death, but David Michôd decided to let the movie speak for itself.
A movie like The Rover requires you to suspend your disbelief, and regardless of which movie you watch, no matter how goofy or fun it is, it’s the work of the director to sell the universe that the movie is set in to you. If you don’t believe the world-building of the movie, you can’t possibly suspend your disbelief in order to become fully immersed in the story itself. Post-apocalyptic movies are some of the hardest to do this right. Had The Rover failed in this attempt, it might have seemed like another Road Warrior clone, trying to capture the zest and feel of that movie. It does not. It creates its own world where each house seems to have a story to tell. What stories lay behind those closed doors?
Each area Eric and Rey visit has its own group of survivors who find their own way to make a living. This movie’s apocalypse it totally unlike anything else I’ve seen in a film. It’s not some sort of spectacle of special effects or miserable hellhole where all men act like beasts. No, it’s probably more or less what life was like only about 200 years ago or so. It’s the Wild West again, but there’s some semblance of law, some sort of government, and a system of money in place. There are consequences for actions, it just takes longer to have justice finally reach you (if ever).
Sometimes, there are obvious examples of what I like to call “stunt-casting,” where someone not typically known for acting any this particular genre is given a chance and it’s something of a stunt. “Watch so-and-so from all those sex romps play a heavy in a bad horror movie!” “Last year’s Oscar winner is this year’s comedy relief!” And so, it seems at surface level that Robert Pattinson is a case of stunt-casting in this movie. “You may know him as a pre-teen girl’s fantasy, but watch him act!” As if it’s so surprising when a professional actor can manage a good performance.
Robert Pattinson’s performance in this movie is nothing short of great. And I hate using a word like “great” liberally. Great needs to mean something. And here, it does. Robert Pattinson plays Rey not like some bit of stunt-casting, but plays him with such a… I guess confidence? He doesn’t command the screen, but he’s not supposed to. Rey is a tragic character, someone who’s so goddamned sweet, so eager to please, but is unfortunately not blessed with more intelligence. He’s trying to make do with what he has but he clearly has the need to be wanted and liked by the people that he’s around. When he speaks, he speaks in a way in which he’s so unsure of himself. He stammers and he looks upward for hopefully the right words to come, but they rarely ever do. He struggles to make himself clear.
My favorite scene in the movie is when Rey is sitting in the truck he and Eric are using to travel across the awesomely photogenic Australian Outback, and he’s listening to the song “Pretty Girl Rock” by Keri Hilson. This scene was important and beautiful for a couple reasons:
- It firmly established the world that the movie takes place in. We rarely see any piece of technology in this world, so who knows how accessible music is. Coming across a CD or iPod or tape that actually works is probably incredibly rare. So, without the context of popular culture everywhere around us, it’s hard to determine what may or may not actually be a good song. And so, someone like Rey would like, or even love this song completely unironically.
- We get to spend some time with Rey alone and get a glimpse into his real personality, not any sort of front or tough guy face he’s putting on in order to survive. We get to peer inside his mind and see how he feels and what music speaks to him. We can gather that he feels like he’s ugly, but uses the music to make himself feel better about himself. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” he croaks along with the song in a broken, hurt voice.
The Rover is one of the best movies to come out this year and will most definitely be among the top films when the year finally ends. It’s a beautiful movie told simply. There are no exaggerated plot-twists to keep the action interesting or any stagey action set pieces to ramp up tension. This movie respects the audience that seeks it out and the reward for watching it is to be exposed to a mature action-drama that is, in the very best mean of the word, for adults. It’s for grown-ups who want to enjoy a mature story that is about more that what’s on the surface. Like Huck Finn’s raft on the Mississippi or Travis Bickle’s Taxi on the New York streets, Eric and Rey’s journey is much deeper than it appears.