The Rover Is Probably The Most Nihilistic Anti-Nihilism Movie EverPosted: June 16, 2014
After his sprawling, Shakespearean Animal Kingdom, David Michod decided to go in the other direction with a stripped-down, minimal thriller in The Rover. Aside from being very gorgeously shot movie and a great showcase for Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, it also happens to be a very grim and harsh movie, potentially fatally so in terms of connecting with the audience. But in painting such an unforgiving picture (one filled with broken people), Michod ends up perfectly depicting the cost of indifference to the world, no matter how shitty it might be. (SPOILERS BELOW)
The Rover establishes two major characters that dominate the film. One is Eric (although I don’t think he was ever called such in the film), an older and much more desperate man who sets off on this quest when a gang of ruffians steal his car. He’s someone who remembers true society from before the Collapse, and through his own immoral actions has realized that there’s no real punishment or order, and so he’s decided he should just do what he needs to keep himself alive. Eric is cynical, broken and convinced that nothing matters because there’s no repercussions.
The other is Rey, who is left for dead by his brother and their gang (before they steal Eric’s car). Rey is younger, and grew up during and after the Collapse; as a result he is a natural survivor despite being a half-wit otherwise, but his impulse towards protecting himself hasn’t robbed him of his humanity in the same way it has from his eventual companion. Unlike Eric, who has lost all faith in mankind and order, Rey still has some faith in his brother and maybe even God, because the fucked-up world around him is the norm, so why should he expect the worst from everyone? While Eric has become convinced there is no decency (or expectations of decency) among men, Rey’s innocence leaves him somewhat unsure about his actions.
Eric, in trying to find a partner he can rely on and in trying to recover his car, pushes Rey to embrace his self-involved survivor instincts over everyone else, so that he can use him to retrieve his car (or maybe get himself a partner as long as he needs him). As a result, Rey becomes more actively dangerous, even turning on his brother, only to get himself killed. Eric then has to confront actual, personal consequences to his cynical survivor instincts in a way he hasn’t had to in a long time. His manipulation and pollution of Rey serves as a reminder that it’s not the uncaring world that turned Eric into a casual monster, but that it was his own choice to choose “survival” over human decency.
The whole story demonstrates that while the world might go to shit, and many people might become selfish, the only thing that truly tears us down is our own detachment. Nihilism comes from within, and even in the face of an economic/social calamity it is up to us to determine where the world goes next. In its own way, it is an uplifting message… just one delivered in the bleakest and harshest way possible, with the rub that most people will probably succumb to their base instinct. But sometimes a surgeon has to cut in order to cure, and that’s what The Rover does.
(Though let’s just forget the very final denouement scene, which might have been something resonant if the film had set it up at all. But, a minor problem for a solid movie.)