The Tracker: a First Time Viewing Review Essay

Across acres of harsh, barren land in “somewhere in Australia”, 4 contrasting characters are on the verge of despair (except the tracker himself) attempt to apprehend an Aboriginal man who allegedly murdered a white woman. Rolf De Heer’s haunting film tackles the controversial issue of the complicated relationship between Aboriginals and white men during earlier times. The 4 characters: the tracker (David Gulpilil), the fanatic (Gary Sweet), the new guy (Damon Gameau) & the veteran (Grant Page) interact with each other in a queer manner; very few words are ever spoken between them but the silence between them highlights their differences.

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The tracker (Gulpilil) is essential to not only the task but also to the movie itself. The tracker represents the good in man which was portrayed in ‘The Whipping Scene,’ when he refused to move ahead in order to wait for a fallen team member to catch up. His perseverance is admirable which is what triggers the follower to feel respect for him.

The tracker is essentially the mastermind of the team but he plays the fool in order to trick the fanatic into thinking he was in control. The tracker is fair and does everything for a reason; he waits patiently for his chance to move and is cunning.

Strong minded and opinionated, the fanatic (Sweet) is commonly seen as the ‘evil guy’ of the movie. He represents the typical white man from Aboriginal & Australian past that constantly undermines Aboriginals. His role in the film was to highlight the good in both the tracker and the follower as his actions and sayings reflect his ‘evil’ character.

The follower (Gameau) is fundamentally a follower. At first he followed and mimicked the ways of the fanatic, aiding him with the taunting of a small Aboriginal tribe. But as the film progressed, the follower was subjected to the scene when the fanatic mercilessly murdered the small Aboriginal tribe, which forced him to realise the wrong doings of the fanatic. The follower almost instantly diminished his allegiance from the fanatic (shown in the scene when the follower brings a gun to the fanatics head, demanding he ceased fire).

The role of the veteran in this film is miniscule as he dies before the movie had even reached halfway but before his death he had introduced a very important point to the movie. His position in the team was behind the fanatic, he was introduced as the ‘wingman’ of the fanatic but often voiced his complaints regarding the fanatic’s actions. This was as far as the veteran went; he never once physically stood up to the fanatic (like the follower and the tracker had) which accentuates the lack of courage he truly has.

Rolf De Heer brings to the film the conflicting issues of racism towards Aboriginals during the dark chapter of Australian history and integrates the underlying message that “all men choose the path they walk” expertly. The border between civilised and savage are blurred in ‘The Tracker’ when the fanatic is full of the ideas that he is superior over Aboriginals because he is ‘white’ and murders innocent people relentlessly. The fanatic’s maddening tone of superiority above Aboriginals is contrasted with the follower’s sudden courageous act of defiance, which adds to the film’s message that ‘all men choose the path they walk’.

“The Tracker” features Aboriginal paintings by renowned Aboriginal artist, Peter Coad. The unique film technique of replacing violent scenes with paintings that are equally as moving, brings the film to a whole other level and creates a ligature to the ancient Dream Time stories when Aboriginals used paintings to pass down their history to younger generations. The use of paintings creates a sense the film isn’t just a film but more like an accurate account of the horrible variations of the tale which had indeed occurred in the past.

From the eerie tones of the song, to the solemn lyrics that often relates to the scenes that are being played out during the film, Rolf De Heer’s use of soundtracks sung by Archie Roach certainly creates a haunting imprint on viewers. The soundtracks, like the paintings, form a connection to Aboriginal Dream Time stories which also implemented songs in the story telling. Some of the soundtrack is also sung in an Aboriginal dialect which further enhances the impression that the movie is also somehow part of Aboriginal history.

The final scene of the tracker riding off into the sunset would often be the most memorable to viewers as not only was it the movie’s parting scene but it was a symbol for hope. It was a powerful scene which gave viewers the concept that there would always be a new day in the end. The follower (who is on horseback) is situated in the foreground as he gazes towards the tracker whom is swiftly exiting the scene and viewer’s eyes are also unconsciously focused on the tracker which reveals how the tracker truly is the protagonist of the film.

How are Coad’s pictures used to explore the themes of “The Tracker”? Peter Coad, a prolific indigenous artist, had created a series of paintings that were incorporated in ‘The Tracker’. His paintings were used in place of video clips of the actual violence that occurred in the movie, but instead of minimising the effects of the scene it revealed the Aboriginal’s perspective on the violence. The paintings draw the viewer’s attention to the aftermath of the violence and the distinct style of painting is instantly recognised as the Aboriginal style of painting which creates a connection to the Aboriginals.

The paintings often depict the pained expressions of the indigenous Aboriginals during the massacres and the scene that directly follows is usually a close up of one of the main protagonist’s face.

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