The man who killed

Sometimes I think about the man who killed my mother. I don’t want to, but I find it happening. It was better before I gave up drinking. In the old days, when those thoughts rose up I could tamp them back down with some bourbon and a little ice. Now they are free to do as they please.  Please don’t misunderstand. The man who killed my mother did not do it on purpose. There was ice on the road. It was an accident. No intent.

She’s just as dead, though.

So, here’s the thing that I wonder: does it haunt him? Does he think about the life that he took? Can he sleep at night? I imagine a strange paradox. If he is haunted, then he does not deserve to be. He is a good man and should be released from the price that he has been forced to pay. But, if he never thinks of her, never loses sleep then he does deserve to be haunted.  It’s a bitch of a situation, really. A serious catch 22.

This is maybe the sort of thing that The Rover wants us to think about. It’s a post-apocalyptic  film set in the outback of Australia ten years after “the collapse”.  We assume that the collapse was economic in nature. This is soft apocalypse of sorts.

Guy Pearce plays Eric. When we meet him he is at some sort of roadside rest stop, having some water.  Three men who are fleeing after a robbery gone wrong crash their truck outside the rest stop. They have left behind one of their own, Rey, who was wounded and may or may not be dead.  They attempt to free their truck from some debris, but cannot, so they steal Eric’s car and flee down the highway.

Eric manages to get the truck unstuck and chases after them.  He catches up and gets them to pull over. Eric explains to them that he wants his car back. They refuse, and bludgeon Eric, knocking him unconscious. He wakes later and continues his hunt for the men who have his car.

Eric goes to buy a gun at an opium den. The man selling guns wants too much money. Eric witnessed the man throw a rock at a dog, and we think that that fact may have more to do with what happens next than the disagreement about price. Eric shoots him In the head with the gun he was to buy.

 Shortly he meets Rey (Robert Pattinson) the wounded man that was left behind by the robbers. He gets Rey to a doctor and gets him stitched up, then they hit the road to find the men.  

There's a moment at the doctor's house where we see that she has a kennel full of dogs. She explains that people would leave them in her care, but no one ever came back. She keeps the dogs locked up to protect them. People kill dogs for food now.

Eric wants his car back.

It may seem odd that a man would be willing to kill, and risk being killed to reclaim a car, but that’s exactly what this seems to be about. It becomes a chase movie, and being set in a postapocalyptic outback one is forced to draw comparisons to the Mad Max movies.  There really isn’t much similarity, though. The Rover is more of a Western, and much more contemplative than the first three Mad Max movies.

There are  quiet moments, and in two of them Eric gives us the film’s thesis via his dialogue. At a motel there is a shootout with the military, and Rey fires his gun through a door. When he open the door he sees that he has killed a child. Later, after they have escaped from the soldiers Rey says that he can’t stop thinking about the girl that died. “You shouldn’t,” Eric tells him. “You should never stop thinking about a life that you took. That’s the price for taking it.”  That seems to be what The Rover wants us to understand about violence. That it shouldn’t be free. There are repercussions and that is just.

Later, Eric has been captured by the military. An officer explains to him that he will sent to Sydney. Eric asks why he doesn’t just kill him and the officer says that if he killed every fool he wanted to kill eventually they would stop paying him.  He says that it doesn’t matter to him if Eric gets to Sydney and they let him go, or he bribes his way out of it.   Eric seems surprised, then he tells the officer a story.

Eric killed his wife ten years earlier. He caught her cheating and he killed her and her lover then buried them in the desert. No one ever came after him. He didn’t have to hide, or lie.

“No one ever came after me. Ten years ago. I never had to explain myself. I never had to lie to anyone. I never had to run and hide. I just buried 'em in a hole and I went home. No one ever came after me. And that hurt me more than getting my heart broken. Knowing it didn't matter. Knowing you can do something like that and no one comes after you. You do a thing like I did, that should really mean something. But it just doesn't matter anymore.”

When these things stop mattering that's when civilization ceases to be a thing.  That's one of the things that The Rover needs us to understand.  All of this, society,  the modern world,  civilization (as much as it has ever existed) is just people caring, and that caring making things matter.  On the internet these days the refrain is "LOL nothing matters " and that's the catchphrase for Hobbes' state of nature.  Sometimes it seems like we are dreadfully close to that nasty, brutish,  short existence that he warned us about.

If you've seen a lot of movies you can likely guess how it ends up. Stories like this do mirror life, and life rarely ends with redemption or happily ever after tied in a pretty bow.   Most everyone ends up dead. But Eric gets his car back. In the final moments we learn why it was so damned important.

We watch him retrieve the body of his dog from the car trunk, and bury it in the desert.  Finally we can understand. There is something very human in the act that closes the film, and it makes sense of what came before.

I think I will live with this film for a very long time. We all live with things that we maybe don't want.  That's part of the price of living.

I wonder if he knows that.

-Nathan Tyree