Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Uplifting Effects of Unfamiliarity in Walkabout & The Gods Must Be Crazy by Grace Langella

When the act of change is thought about by humans, it tends to be linked to many negative emotions and actions. This tendency for humans to directly correlate change with negativity results from all of the stress and anxiety that overcomes them once put into situations of unfamiliarity. Because of the disoriented feelings we get once exposed to something new, humans keep themselves tied to a monotonous lifestyle that holds them back from experiencing a new way of living. Although being fixed on a rigid way of life brings feelings of comfort and safety for humans, there is an importance that needs to be shed on breaking away from a repetitive lifestyle in order to understand the valuable disparateness that exists in the world. When exposed to differences that break them out of their comfort zone, humans tend to experience culture shock, for they have no idea how to behave in situations that are new and uncommon to them. Because of how easily people crack under the pressures of unfamiliarity, we are able to see how fragile homeostasis really is and how much one’s energy can drop as a result. In both Jamie Uy’s The Gods Must be Crazy and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, we are able to see the fragility of homeostasis and the drastic impact it can have on one’s life; whether one comes from an isolated, indigenous community or Western society, an abrupt change can be traumatic to survival and cooperation between members of a society.

For the Kalahari Bushmen, cooperating with one another is never an issue; living in apartheid South Africa, everyone goes about their day as they please, making sure to maintain a sense of peace and community. Contrary to Western civilization, the Kalahari Bushmen aim to keep their society simple by refraining from focusing on technological advancements and things that can disrupt the serenity in which they live. In order to show the great contrast between societies and draw a satirical depiction of Western civilization, Jamie Uys incorporates a voiceover in the beginning of the film, which comments on the need for people living in Western society to reinvent themselves every fifteen minutes (Uys, 10:03). By commenting on this ridiculous way of life, Uys makes it clear that Western society follows a structure that is needlessly strict, restraining humans from reaching a point in their life that is well balanced and valuable.

In The Gods Must be Crazy, Jamie Uys paints a picture of a civilization that is perfectly balanced and valuable for everyone that is part of it. Although the Bushmen’s prestigious society seems to be indestructible, their ideal lifestyle gets turned upside down and ruined once an unfamiliar object arrives and dominates the way that people behave. As a Coke bottle falls from the sky, it is seen as an “ubiquitous byproduct of the civilized world [that] becomes both a tool and an object of jealousy when a Xhosa-speaking Bushman, Xi, discovers it and brings it to his tribe” (Gottwald, par. 2). Once Xi brings the Coke bottle into his society, an immediate outbreak occurs and people that once lived “collectively, enjoying and praising nature,” begin to turn on each other and create disharmony in their once tranquil society (Eshetu, par. 3). At first, the Bushmen look at the Coke bottle in confusion, unsure of what to do with such an unfamiliar object; however, they eventually realize how great of an impact it can have on their everyday lifestyle, which causes their behavior to change and the fragility of homeostasis to be exemplified. The people within Xi’s society become filled with jealousy, anger, and violence because “for the first time in their lives, here was a thing that could not be shared because there was only one of it [...] a thing they never needed before became a necessity” (Uys, 10:28). Using the Coke bottle to “represent something so vast and unique as civilized society,” Uys makes it evident that anything that comes from Western civilization, even something as insignificant as a Coke bottle, has the ability to poison any balance and social dynamic that once existed in the Bushman’s society (Antoine, par. 4).

Another situation that Uys includes in his film to exemplify the negativity of Western civilization when compared to indigenous life is Kate’s experience as she moves from a civilized lifestyle to a more natural one. While living in Western society, Kate spends her time as a writer for a city newspaper; in doing so, she finds herself “letting social norms control her and what she writes about” because “instead of writing about something that peaks her curiosity, she is limited by convention to write about topics that are ‘sweet and light’” (Spellman, par. 5). After realizing that she is bigger than the bounds that limit her in Western society, Kate moves to South Africa where she finds her unique intelligence to be a factor of progression rather than regression in society. Upon her arrival into the Bushman civilization, Kate is taken in with open arms and praised for her willingness to educate and expand their ways of thinking—completely contrasting the experience she had while living in Western civilization. By having Kate’s experiences be drastically different in the two societies, it shows how harmful Western civilization really is. In Western society, Kate aimed for making a change by expressing herself through her writing but was so constricted by the limits of society that she was forced to quit. 

Being constricted by the limits of society is something that people living in Western culture experience every day; however, it does not seem to bother them because they are brainwashed into thinking that living such a limited life is completely normal. Viewers are able to see the consequences of this mindless acceptance through The Girl and her little brother in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout as they venture into the Outback and find themselves in need to connect with nature. Because The Girl and The Boy have grown up “in a world where they learned proper etiquette, were taught to get educated to ensure future employment, and were given food instead of having to hunt for it,” they find themselves completely lost the moment they are put into an unfamiliar situation and forced to adapt (Bellesheim, par. 2).

As time elapses and The Girl and The Boy meet an Aboriginal who is willing to help them survive, their lack of knowledge and inexperience of other cultures is exemplified even further when The Girl is unaware of the language barrier that exists between her and the Aboriginal as she attempts to ask him for water. Viewers are also able to see the inexperience of The Girl and Boy the moment that The Girl comments on her brother’s appearance, exclaiming, “You must look after your blazer. It’s got to last. We don’t want people thinking we’re a couple of tramps” (Roeg, 34:28). The Girl’s exorbitant concern about the way her brother looks in the middle of the Australian Outback, as they are barely surviving and getting through each day, goes to show how poorly Western civilization prepared them for times where they would be exposed to a new way of living that is completely different from anything they have ever experienced before.

When people are exposed to something that they have never experienced before, there tends to be various ways in which it is handled. For the Kalahari Bushman, the exposure to a foreign object, such as the Coke bottle, initially caused chaos throughout society; however, once they realized that the bottle was not worth the trouble it was causing, Xi walked to the end of the Earth to throw the bottle in the sea and allow his society to go back to living in tranquility. 

Although the return to homeostasis was easy for the Kalahari Bushmen, it was not as easy for The Girl as she returned home from the Outback and realized everything she left behind will never be attainable for her ever again. As Roeg displays The Girl grown up with her husband as he speaks about his promotion at work, viewers are able to see her in another world, ignoring everything he says, as she thinks back on her time in the Outback where life was much simpler and filled with happiness. Looking at how different both situations of aberration resolve, it becomes evident that real living is being one with nature through a more simplistic way of thinking; however, the only way humans will be able to understand this is by testing limits, experiencing culture shock, and comprehending the fragility of homeostasis.

Works Cited

Antoine, Myrtchena. “What Do You Do with Trash: A Review of WALKABOUT & THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY.” Taking Giant Steps, 2017,

Bellesheim, Allison. “Walkabout: Where the Wild Things Are.” Taking Giant Steps, 2017,

Eshetu, Hanna. “Pursuit to Restore Serenity.” Taking Giant Steps, 2018,

Gottwald, Benny. “Putting Masculinity on the Chopping Block.” Taking Giant Steps, 2018,

Roeg, Nicolas. Walkabout. Perf. Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, and Luc Roeg. Twentieth Century Fox, 1971. Film.

Spellman, Jennie. “The Dark Side of Civilization.” Taking Giant Steps, 2018,

Uys, Jamie, Director, writer and director. The Gods Must be Crazy.

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