Director David Michôd discusses new film The Rover

Australian director David Michôd follows his hard-boiled crime drama Animal Kingdom with a terrifying vision of the near future – The Rover.

A director in demand after Animal Kingdom, the great Australian crime drama of the last decade, Michôd’s debut feature received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver and thrust the former editor of Inside Film into the international spotlight. Part of the Blue-Tongue Films collective, Michôd stayed in Australia for his follow-up, The Rover – a bleak near-future vision of this country, which Michôd calls a “pretty brutal imagining of an Australia that’s been abandoned”. Starring Guy Pearce (who follows Michôd from Animal Kingdom) as Eric and Robert Pattinson (who is carving a nice career in independent films after the Twilight saga) as Rey, the two men form an unlikely bond in the middle of the outback. Set 10 years after the collapse of the western economic system, a criminal gang steals Eric’s only possession worth fighting for– a car – after a heist gone wrong. On the hunt for the thieves, Eric runs into Rey (Pattinson); the younger brother of one of the gang members Eric is pursuing. 

The plot is simple (Eric’s car is stolen. Eric gets angry. Eric seeks revenge) but there is plenty to ponder between the lines – nothing is explained about the collapse responsible for this Old West-meets-Third World outback, and you have no idea about what lies beyond the horizon. Originally a road movie with the base idea of ‘cars in the desert’ by Michôd and fellow Blue-Tongue member Joel Edgerton, the film was to be a project for Joel’s brother Nash to direct, but the film took a personal edge after Michôd starting redrafting it.

“When I decided this was the movie I wanted to make and I started redrafting it, it was a couple of years after the financial crisis which seemed to coincide with Kevin Rudd dropping the ball on the ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme],” Michôd explains. “I felt like I was living in a world where everyone had thrown in the towel. We had basically surrended our economies to avaricious pigs in the financial sector and the truly important challenges for us were being dumped in the too-hard basket. I found this experience filling me with despair and that despair quickly morphed into anger. When I was redrafting The Rover, I started channeling a lot of that anger into the script and into the world of the movie, and specifically into Guy Pearce’s character. In a way he’s a proxy for me, but a really murderous one.” 

Though there are traces of Ozploitation classics such as Mad Max, The Rover is much more of a character-led drama than an action flick.

“I always knew I didn’t want it to go into that world of crazy, leather-clad punks in souped-up vehicles. The initial conception was much more of an action film than this one is. I went away and wrote the first draft and, as I was writing it, I came to realise I wanted to make it myself. Finally, I went to Nash and said, ‘I’d actually like to make this’. I went away then and redrafted it into the kind of film I’d like to make and that involved stripping about three car chases out of the movie. I’d fallen in love with the characters and I’d fallen in love with the strangeness of the world. In a way the car chases felt like big distraction; big, expensive distractions and big, technically irritating distractions. It’s not fun to shoot car chases. They can be fun once you’ve put them together and you see how the hard, slow work has paid off but when you’re out there doing it… that isn’t the reason I want to make movies. I love watching two great actors bringing characters to life.”

The Rover is not post-apocalyptic but a frighteningly real and harsh vision of what can happen soon. Australia, in this neo-western, is a mineral-rich Third World country. This realism was important to Michôd.

“In a way it doesn’t seem surprising to me that a lot of films that are set in the future involve a future that is dystopian. You never see movies set in the future where everything’s just so much better than it is today. But it was important to me that this one felt grounded in stuff that feels real, and feels connected to the world today. As soon as you make a movie that’s post-apocalyptic you throw a cataclysmic event in between the audience and the world as a movie. It’s almost an inconceivable cataclysm. I wanted this one to feel dark and dirty and scary because it might feel on some level, despite the movie being a fable, still entirely plausible.” 

On his “pretty brutal imagining of an Australia that’s been abandoned”, Michôd, who will shoot The Operators starring Brad Pitt next, says there was a period where it felt like people were taking climate change seriously.

“Then the financial crisis happened. Then it seemed quite apparent, quite evident to everyone, that the ways of addressing the two problems [the economy and the environment] were mutually exclusive. And the environment lost. And big screen TVs won. That’s where the despair came from. More than anything, it was just about the feeling I had when I was… I don’t know if times were different when I was younger, or if I’m just older now and more cynical, but I remember that I used to walk around vaguely dreaming about the world and always assuming it was getting better, or, the potential for it getting better was always there. It feels to me, only in the past five or six years, that I don’t have that feeling anymore. It’s kind of a terrifying realisation to make.”

The Rover is in cinemas now




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