Turn off your computer, step outside and start walking. Keep walking. Don't eat or drink anything, save for what you can scrounge up from your surroundings. In fact, take your shoes off while you're at it. Now, every couple of hours, pick up a small child and place him or her on your back. Don't stop. Keep this up for several months, and you might begin to comprehend the true-life events that drive Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence.
In 1931, three Aboriginal children did exactly that after being forcibly removed from their homes as part of a mandatory government program. The politically-influenced community system targeted half-castes, Australian children with white fathers and Aborigine mothers. The government, largely personified here by the prim Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), seeks to appeal to the kids' white blood, fostering values and cultural lessons that would benefit the children in their adult years.
Three girls, however, want no part of it. Half-castes Molly (Everlyn Sampi), her sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury), and their cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan) are pulled from their home at Jigalong Depot and transported 1,200 miles away to the government camps. After a powerful separation scene showing the girls literally being pulled from their mothers' grasps, Fence begins painting life at Moore River. It's not a painful existence by any stretch, as the girls in the camp look out for each other and the community is warm. But it's not home, so it's not for Molly. When the opportunity arises, she convinces her sister and cousin to run, not realizing how far from home they are.
On a long journey, small victories make big impacts. The girls feed on hope provided by the kindness of strangers. By the time they stumble on the rabbit-proof fence, they're ready to burst with anticipation or collapse from exhaustion. Metaphorically, the fence serves as a lifeline for the girls, an umbilical chord that's still attached to their mothers. In reality, it's a 1,500-mile-long structure designed to keep rabbits away from Outback crops that also runs right through Jigalong Depot. Follow it, and the fence will lead them home, right? Ah, it's never that simple.
Noyce makes the right decision not to bog Fence down in political squabbles and race issues. Neville, the chief protector of the Aborigine, appears to have the best interests of his charges at heart, though he pushes his soldiers to the brink when the story of three escapees jeopardizes his project. The kids refer to him as "Mr. Devil," though he's not a vicious man. He's just convinced his program could be a success.
Instead, Fence gives us a cause we can get behind: a marathon journey home. Christine Olsen's screenplay bolsters this inspirational fable with warm family messages and few scenes of terror or violence. Noyce's Outback adventure builds tension through the girls' battle with a tracker, a Terminator-type seeker named Moodoo (David Gulpili). Oddly enough, Gulpili will play the title role in an Australian film entitled The Tracker later this year. It's safe to say he's mastered the role.
Fence remains believable because the girls at its core give three wonderful performances. These girls would be street smart, if the Outback had streets. Their cunning and survival instincts never cease to amaze. Sampi, as Molly, displays a wisdom and strength uncommon in a 12-year-old, and her fellow travelers never get whiny, bratty or insensitive. The girls are focused on the trip and trusting of their leader. The fact that Fence retells a true story may escape you at times, but it makes this amazing story all the more enjoyable.
Interesting commentary includes dialogue from the director, writers (including the book's author), Branagh, and even Peter Gabriel. Crazy!
Be vewwwy quiet. He's hunting rabbits.