Director: Rolf de Heer.
Starring: David Gulpilil (The Tracker), Gary Sweet (The Fanatic), Damon Gameau (The Follower), Grant Page (The Veteran), Noel Wilton (Fugitive).
a racist policeman goes way too far in his reactions to Aborigines, endangering the lives of the men who work with him
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1922. Somewhere in Australia.
There are three white policemen and an aborigine tracker. The head police officer is a very racist individual; the other policeman is a rookie; and then there is an older gentleman who is a veteran who was drafted into the expedition. They are tracking an aborigine man who is accused of murdering a white woman.
The tracker tells the policemen that the suspect is about a half a day ahead of them and he is getting tired. The men camp for the night. They resume their tracking in the early morning. The tracker is not sure if he saw an aborigine ahead or not. He tells the policemen again that he is half a day ahead, maybe more. They come upon a group of aborigines, men and women, resting in the shade. The tracker says "They are peaceful, boss." He adds that their man is not with the group. The head policeman leads a charge on the aborigines anyway. He then places the four men and two women in neck chains linking all six. Both the rookie and the racist taunt and threaten the men and women with rifles and pistols. Suddenly we hear a great many shots fired. The racist has shot and killed all six aborigines. The rookie is very upset over the killings. The racist taunts him saying that the aborigines are cannibals and they kill white men in broad daylight. The tracker tries to console the rookie with a little sarcasm: "No such thing as an innocent black. The only innocent black is a dead black." The head policemen hangs the bodies from trees as a warning to other aborigines.
The tracker throws away his old police cap and coat and then starts tracking again. At the top of a cliff, an unseen aborigine throws a spear which hits the supply-carrying horse who starts to run and slips off the cliff to his death. Tracker says to the head man: "Keep going, boss. That tribe back there is plenty stirred up." They reach a small body of water. The tracker looks around and then tells the others that their man was there last night and was with a woman. The head policemen says: "You're not telling me everything. How come he's still a half day ahead of us?" He refers to the aborigines as a "repulsive breed". He tells Tracker that the rookie is a dumb man, but he is still smarter than him because the rookie is white. He adds that "If I don't catch him, it will be your ears I'll take back with me." The men continue their hunt. The veteran tells the head man that he should not have killed those six natives.
The men camp for the night. The rookie has watch duty. He gets up and looks for Tracker. When he can't find him, he wakes the head policeman. The head man becomes very angry and strikes the rookie. As the head man vents his anger, Tracker comes back with an animal he killed for food. The head man yells at him and then has him put in a neck chain with a long leash. They then fasten him to a tree.
The next day Tracker has to track while wearing his iron collar and chain. Later he tells the headman that "Plenty trouble coming, boss." The rookie is suspicious of this statement and of the tracker himself. He tells the headman that the aborigine is not really tracking. The headman then tells Tracker to show the rookie. Tracker shows the doubter how one stone is missing from its place out of thousands. Yes, but one has been displaced recently. The rookie apologies for doubting him.
The veteran is hit by an aborigine spear in the back. He falls off his horse, while the others continue on, not realizing that the last man is no longer with them. Then all of a sudden Tracker stops and says: "Better not go on boss." He explains that the last man has fallen. The headman asks why he did not say anything earlier. Tracker says that he thought the boss was looking out for his men.
The veteran reaches up with them with the spear still in his back. The racist decides to push the spear completely through his body in order to remove it. The rookie says that they will have to go back for the sake of their wounded colleague. The racist absolutely rejects the idea. They continue on. The rookie tells the racist that they will have to stop so the veteran can catch up to them. Again the racist rejects the idea. He says it's the veteran's problem, not theirs. He says they will have to leave the man behind because he's slowing the group down too much. The rookie become defiant and says he will stay with the the veteran. But the racist rejects this idea also. He draws his pistol and says the rookie is to come with him and adds that it is an order. The rookie complies.
After a while, Tracker stops. He tells the headman that he is waiting for the veteran to catch up with them. The headman tells him to move on, but Tracker refuses to move. The racist whips Tracker with a whip, but he still does not move. Then the racist threatens to shoot the aborigine. The rookie reminds the head police officer that they cannot catch the suspect without the tracker. The headman reluctantly agrees. The rookie goes back to help the veteran catch up.
The rookie and the veteran catch up, but the veteran is in very bad shape. Continuing the tracking, Tracker sees their suspect ahead. But he refuses to continue on because ahead lies sacred ground. He tells the racist not to worry because the suspect won't enter the sacred area either. So the men set up camp. During the night, the headman takes a burning stick from the camp fire and places it on the wound of the veteran. (He holds one hand over the wounded man's mouth so he won't wake the others.) Was he trying to kill the veteran or just trying to cauterize his wound? We don't know for sure, but we do know that in the morning the veteran is dead. They bury him.
The survivors continue on. The headman asks Tracker why they are always going up and down; why are they always on the rough ground. The reply is: "Can't help where the black fellow goes." Coming on a body of water set in a deep hole, Tracker throws himself into the water, thereby dragging the fanatic off his horse and into the water. Tracker tries to drown the headman, but he is not successful. Back on his horse, he tells Tracker that he has no doubt that he tried to kill him. He warns him not to try such a stunt again.
The head policeman's horse is hit by a spear and it runs away. Now the fanatic has to ride the veteran's horse. Later they come upon another group of aborigines at their camp. The racist starts shooting the natives. All of a sudden the fanatic has to stop. The rookie has placed his rifle barrel up against the racist's head. He tells the racist to drop his gun and get off his horse. We next see the neck chain off Tracker and on the fanatic. The rookie tells the chained man that he will stand trial for murder. Tracker says nothing during all of this.
They now investigate the damage caused by the fanatic. Tracker cries over the dead boy of an old aborigine. He then pulls the fanatic from his horse and throws him next to the dead man. The racist's comment is that they will give him a metal for what he did. The men make camp. With the help of another aborigine in the bush, Tracker makes some type of potion. Tracker prepares the food and gives it to the rookie and the fanatic. The racist is sure that Tracker has poisoned the food and so he switches his food with Tracker. But to the racist's surprise, Tracker eats the food with no effect. Tracker then starts laughing very loudly at the reaction of the rookie and the fanatic.
During the night, Tracker moves the horses away from the camp. He checks on the rookie to make sure he is asleep. (The potion was a sleeping potion and the rookie is now fast asleep.) Tracker ties a rope to the fanatic's chains and hoist him up so that he has to stand on his tippy-toes. He tells the fanatic that he is charged with the murder of the innocents. Tracker then asks him for his plea. The fanatic will not give a plea. Tracker tells him that he has been found guilty and he is sentenced to hang by the neck until he is dead. Tracker hoists the racist up into the air and fastens the rope to a tree. He then takes a rock and hits himself on the head until blood trickles down onto his face. He then goes to sleep.
The next morning the rookie finds the dead body of the fanatic hanging from a rope and chain. He checks on the bloody Tracker who awakens and acts as if the aborigines had attacked during the night, knocked him out and hanged the fanatic. The rookie wants to bury the fanatic's body, but Tracker tells him that the man has been left as a warning to the whites. They better leave him; they don't want to stir up the natives any more than they already have. They continue tracking their suspect.
The two men are suddenly surrounded by a group of aborigines. Tracker tells the rookie to give them his rifle. The rookie gives up his weapon and they go with the aborigines. The natives have already captured the fugitive from justice. Tracker talks to the suspect. He reports back to the rookie that the man says he did not kill the white woman; that he was far away at the time. Tracker adds that he thinks the man is telling the truth, but the courts will find him guilty anyway.
The natives give Tracker a spear and Tracker throws it into the leg of the suspect. The rookie demands to know why Tracker did this. He explains that this is tribal justice. He was not punished for killing a white woman, but for having sexual relations with a white female. Tracker and the rookie are allowed to leave. Back at camp, they find the body of the fanatic missing. Tracker says that the natives probably cooked him and ate him. "You know we're all cannibals." Tracker then gets the horses and brings them back.
Tracker mounts his horse and asks if the rookie can get himself back home. The rookie says he thinks so and Tracker starts riding off. The rookie shouts to him: "I wonder who did kill that woman." Tracker turns his head and shouts back: "Probably a white fellow, boss. They are murderers, shifty, thieving, dishonest mob; can't trust them one bit." The rookie watches the native ride away.
Good movie. The racist head police officer was absolutely disgusting. His ugly words and deeds illustrate the racism existent in Australia against the aborigines. But he got what he deserved. "Ain't karma a bitch" as they say. David Gulpilil is terrific as the tracker. His way of speaking English and his constant use of the term "boss" with the white men was very interesting. My wife liked the movie too.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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