McKenzie's Satellite Boy is a case of good
intentions limiting the possibilities of a film. This is
coming of age story, where the young central character learns to fully
their indigenous heritage and survival skills, shunning the modern
other films like Samson and Delilah have exposed the
bleakness and nihilism of the outback life, this film is intended as a
Aboriginal communities and their belief in the Milky Way as a vision of
Yet through this idealism McKenzie's film is also overly simplistic. It
substitutes realism, detail and insight to uphold and prove its
is about the journey of
Pete (Cameron Wallaby), a young Aboriginal boy who lives with his
Old Jagamarra (David Gulpilil) and is reluctant to embrace the ways of
bush. They live in the outback town of Wyndham in an abandoned cinema.
their land is threatened by a
mining company Pete sets off to confront the manager of the company to
stop them. He leaves his grandfather behind but is joined by the
and inexperienced Kalmain (Joseph Pedley). Together they have to use
outback skills to survive and find the company as they cross their
was shot in North Western
Australian in the Kimberley region, which is rich in Aboriginal culture
listed as a world heritage area. Special permission had to be granted
to film there,
which accounts for why the film is highly sanitised. The film never
weighs up the
ramifications of this journey.
and Kalmain continually
avoid tension and danger. They gather popcorn and water before the
never seem to be short of food because gathering food from a rock is
sufficient. They don't suffer physically either from heat exhaustion
lucky enough to be able to find a river to cross. The most dangerous
when they find a loaded magnum handgun. Yet this also results in a
outcome that foils the miners.
is so chipper about the
power of heritage and culture that it denies its own moral compass.
happens after Pete rejects the consumer life of his mother and stays in
outback? He disappears into the desert at the end of the film, which is
for committing himself to the land.
reality though is that children
need a balanced life. Understanding their heritage and who that makes
invaluable and should never be forgotten. However, is schooling,
employment somehow less important? These are equally essential in
character of any person, whatever their heritage or background is, but
doesn't make a point of that.
the psychological damage
of living in the outback is untested too. In recent years we have
racial boundaries of intervening into Aboriginal communities because of
number of documented cases relating to the likes of sexual assault and
alcoholism. Satellite Boy doesn't
have the psychological depth or bravery to explore and debate the
issues faced by self-governing communities and the impact on young
content with being a beautifully
photographed yet hollow movie, one that shields itself from ever being
insensitive but consequently weakens its own moral complexity.