The Rabbit Proof Fence – Day Fifteen – #40movies40days
This is another instant classic from NetFlix Instant Watch section. The Rabbit Proof Fence is a powerful story of survival, hope and the triumph of the human spirit. Three young girls walk 1,500 miles, escaping from a half-caste resettlement and re-education camp to return to their mother and aboriginal homelands.
The Rabbit Proof Fence of the film’s title bisected Australia from East to West and North to South during the 20th century. It was built in an attempt to separate the wilds of the “bush”, infested with rabbits and other agricultural pests, from valuable farm land.
It’s also a metaphor for the divide bisecting Australian society– the aboriginal people who must be contained and kept at bay and the more valuable white society which must be preserved and protected. Particularly offensive to white Australian society were the half-caste children, often fathered by the itinerant white workers who build the rabbit-proof fence.
The rabbit isn’t native to Australia (and has no natural predators there). Rabbits were imported to provide a “bit of hunting sport” for white farmers. Once introduced, the species flourished and over-ran the countryside doing extensive damage. Rabbit infestation has resulted in the extinction of countless native Australian plants and other wildlife.
The children depicted in The Rabbit Proof Fence were separated from their aboriginal mothers and trained as domestic servants for white settlers. This resettlement and re-education program existed from 1910 to 1971 and resulted in “stolen generations”.
The half-caste girls in these camps were prevented from marrying aboriginal spouses in order to “breed out” their native characteristics. White unions were promoted and the domestic servant girls were often forced into sexual relations by their white male employers in the lonely underpopulated outback.
Kenneth Branagh plays A.O. Neville Chief Protector of Aborigines, in Western Australia. He is a classic Power of Conscience character gone to the Dark Side. (How much evil are you willing to do in the cause of doing what you believe is good?) In the movie he says, “In spite of himself, the native must be helped.” In real life he said:
“they have to be protected against themselves whether they like it or not. They cannot remain as they are. The sore spot requires the application of the surgeon’s knife for the good of the patient, and probably against the patient’s will.”
The heroine of the film, 14-year-old Molly, escapes from the Moore River Native Settlement Mission where she and her sisters being held. She walks (often carrying her 8-year-old sister) across the bush and the desert back to their mother 1,500 miles away. The Rabbit Proof Fence serves as her guide.
Molly is a young woman with incredible grace, dignity and solid sense of self. Her journey is mesmerizing, heroic and nothing short of amazing. She evaded white army officers and an expert native aboriginal tracker, all sent to find her and bring her back. The film is based on real events and the book Molly’s daughter, Doris Pilkington wrote about her mother’s journey home. Christine Olsen wrote the screenplay.
One of the most interesting things about this Lenten Project of viewing a movie a day and writing about it– is the number of strong female heroines I’ve discovered. Their strength is evident in their intelligence or sense of humor or humility or tenacity or rebellion or dignity or wit or sacrifice– or sometimes a combination of these characteristics. They are very different than most of the male heroes in films today. This project has been a great start to a list of films every woman should see.