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Film / Rabbit-Proof Fence

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"We're here to help. Duty, service, responsibility. Those are our watchwords."
Mr. Neville, the head of the Aboriginal internment program in Western Australia

In early 20th century Australia, under the (mistaken) impression that the Aboriginal population was dying out, the government decided that the best thing that could be done for mixed-race children with one white and one Aboriginal parent was to round them up and make them wards of the state (it was also assumed that living among "cultured" white people as servants and laborers would be far better than living with one's family in a native village). The intention was that these half-white children would eventually marry white Australians, and their descendants would lose all traces of their Aboriginal heritage within a few generations.

Our protagonists are three "half-caste" Aborigine girls, 14-year-old Molly, her 8-year-old sister Daisy, and their cousin, 10-year-old Gracie. The three are taken from their mothers and put in one of the British/Australian government centers for half-caste children. It is on the opposite coast of the country from their home. Molly leads the other girls in an escape and they try to make their way home, following the "rabbit-proof" fence that runs all the way across Australia to protect the cattle grazing lands from the rabbits. The journey is hundreds of miles long, and there are skilled trackers following them.

Inspired by… a true story, and based on the book written by Doris Pilkington Garimara, the real Molly's daughter. Kenneth Branagh plays Mr. Neville.

Tropes found in this film include:

  • Artistic License – History: In the book, the children's abduction is described as more subdued and the parents complying with the officers knowing that fighting would be useless. The movie's depiction of a more violent kidnapping is instead taken from other well-documented accounts.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Molly and Daisy have managed to reach their families, but Gracie was caught and never returned there. Plus, Molly was caught again a decade later with her young daughter and had to trek all the way back again.
  • Boomerang Bigot:
    • The tough Aboriginal guard at the Moore River seems to genuinely despise his own culture.
    • The term being ever so ironic since this film takes place in Australia.
  • Break the Cutie: All of them.
  • But Not Too Black: Used as an operation principle by Mr. Neville and the facility’s managers. If a child’s skin is light enough, they’re considered smarter and are thus sent to the normal school to receive proper education.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Just about everything Mr. Neville says when he justifies his actions. Check out the quotes page for more.
  • Dutch Angle: Used for Mr. Neville's office throughout.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Brought up in the discussion between Mr. Neville and the WA police chief, who mentions that the department simply doesn’t have the resources to spend on the long-term hunt in remote outback for girls who have committed no violent crime.
  • Determinator: Can you imagine what it would take to be 14 and walk 1,500 miles through the Australian Outback?
  • Disappeared Dad: The children's fathers are mentioned but are nowhere to be found in this film.
  • Eye Awaken: Used at one point in the desert, after Molly collapses from heat exhaustion.
  • Flashback Effects: Used during the first night at the centre, when Molly remembers all that has happened to them and decides that they have to leave the place. The moments she remembers are all blurred and sepia-toned.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: The film depicts AO Neville as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who genuinely believes he's doing what's best for the children. In reality he was actually much worse; passionately supporting the idea of cultural extinction and even being on record at saying in a 1937 conference:
    "Are we going to have... one million blacks in the Commonwealth, or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there were any Aborigines in Australia?"
  • Historical Fiction
  • I Lied: A man tells Gracie that her mother is in Wiluna. Gracie believes him. It's a trap and she's taken back. Riggs promises the man a shilling for his assistance. In Real life, Gracie's mother did actually move to Wiluna after her daughter was taken, but it was left ambiguous whether this was the case in the movie.
  • Inspired by…
  • Knight Templar: Mr. Neville and the nuns at the center genuinely believe that what they’re doing is right and will help the Aboriginals by advancing them into the white race through controlling their marriages.
  • Mama Bear: Molly and Daisy's mother scares Riggs off at the end by simply walking towards him with a spear.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, as we are shown a bucket that is used in place of the toilet at the governmental facility, and even see it being poured out.
  • Opening Monologue: One by the real-life Molly no less, now in her old age.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Peter Gabriel composed the film's soundtrack, with The Blind Boys Of Alabama as a close collaborator.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Used to great effect when Molly slowly walks towards Mr. Neville in a test if her skin is fair enough to be sent to regular school.
  • Promotion to Parent: Happens to Molly when they escape, as she is forced to be the one to make the decisions.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Constable Riggs is sent to retrieve the children along with Moodoo. He pursues the girls because it's his job and doesn't care for the internment programs or the politics of his superiors. After traveling in the desert to little success he runs off after being spooked by the girl's mother, noting he isn't paid enough for this.
  • Scary Black Man: Played straight with the Aboriginal guard at the internment center, who wakes the children by hammering at the walls with a crowbar. Subverted with Moodoo, a tough-looking tracker, who nevertheless only works for Neville because his daughter is also held at the Moore River.
  • Team Mom:
    • Molly, who has to do all the decisions for the other girls and reluctantly admits to carrying Gracie around when she can no longer walk.
    • Nina (The oldest of the girls at Moore River) might count as one for the Moore River children.
  • There's No Place Like Home: And how.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Happens to Olive after she's brought back to Moor River and whipped.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Molly in spades. She initiates the escape and manages to make 1500 miles on foot through the outback, while caring for the other two girls.
  • You Are Not Alone: The girls receive help at several points in the story. Usually it’s food, but at one point they get pointed towards the correct branch of the fence and at another point this help allows them to evade a trap set down the fence.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Moodoo, the Aboriginal tracker, technically could, but he won't leave his daughter behind.