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Film “Rabbit Proof Fence”

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In the film “Rabbit Proof Fence”, the character A.O. Neville is portrayed as a mostly unsympathetic character. The director, Phillip Noyce used the technique of camera angles to develop Neville’s character as very authoritative and controlling of the other characters in the movie. The soundtrack, particularly the sound effects, are also used to develop Neville’s character. He is shown to be very isolated from the suffering of Aborigines and only concerned for rules and regulations. The lighting and colour in both his office (where he is seen most of the time) and whilst making a presentation, are used in the film to demonstrate Neville’s attitudes and beliefs.

Finally, the editing of scenes contrasts Neville’s actions and orders with those that he affects, creating a controlling, heartless character. However, despite all of this, he is not entirely unsympathetic. Neville believes that he is doing the right thing for the Aboriginal people. He is well-meaning and simply doesn’t understand. It is the way he acts upon these beliefs that make him an unsympathetic character.

Noyce makes Neville appear very powerful and authoritative through his use of close-up and tilted-up camera angles. In the scenes where the viewers are introduced to Neville, he is shown sitting at his desk, going over paperwork with a very stern expression on his face. The camera is tilted up towards him, giving and impression of being very tall and imposing. As he reads through papers in a very serious manner, the camera is a very close to his face. His face fills the screen as he reads, making him appear very officious and dominating. Through these shots, the viewer is positioned to see Neville as a very harsh, cold and controlling person.

Furthermore, at the Moore River settlement, Neville is depicted checking the colour of the skin of the half-caste children to see if they are ‘worthy’ to attend school and live in white society. When Molly is called, the camera shows Neville from her point of view, and he appears to tower menacingly over her. From the viewpoint of a child, Neville is a very powerful and threatening. By seeing Neville from this angle, the viewers feels compassion for Molly as she faces Neville, and in turn see Neville as a cruel and oppressive character.

The sound effects in the movie develop Neville’s character as authoritative and bureaucratic. When finalising paperwork to authorise the removal of the three children Molly, Daisy and Gracie, he stamps the paper. The loud thud of the stamp brings a sense of officiousness and finality. Concerned only with rules, money and bureaucracy, the viewer perceive Neville’s character as cold, emotionless and unlikeable.

Before being introduced to Neville, the viewer is first shown the streets of Perth, where Neville’s Office is located. Completely contrasted to the serene, fertile bush shown previously, the city appears noisy and busy; a whole other world. Neville, who resides in Perth, is completely separated from the Aboriginals supposedly under his care. The sounds of Perth shown in the film, the blaring horns and busy traffic, imply to the viewer that Neville is isolated from the problems he causes, and unsympathetic to the suffering of the Aborigines.

The director also uses the colour and lighting of Neville’s surrounding to demonstrate Neville’s attitudes. Neville’s office provides a true insight into his character. Sitting at his desk, Neville is surrounded by his possessions: Filing cabinets, wooden furniture and paperwork. The only colours are dull browns, grey, cream and white. By seeing Neville enclosed by all this order, regulation and procedure, the viewer sees him as a very isolated person, incapable of looking past the formalities and regulations of Aborigines and seeing them as real people who share the same feelings and emotions as white people.

Moreover, in the scene Neville is giving a presentation and addressing the white women, he is flooded with blinding white light from the projector as he speaks about the half-caste children being a problem that must be fixed. He is very harsh in appearance. The white light is contrasted to the dark shadows which the rest of the room is filled with. Through this lighting, Neville appears very unsympathetic toward the suffering of the Aborigines and cares only for the absorption of the half-castes into the white community. He believes that half-castes can have the black skin colour “stamped out” after three generations and should not be allowed to “create an unwanted, third race”. These harsh, bigoted words, along with the stark contrast of light, show Neville to be a very narrow-minded and controlling person.

Through the editing of scenes, Noyce develops Neville’s character to be seen to be cruel and insensitive to the suffering of others. As chief protector of Aboriginals, Neville had power over every aboriginal in the state of Western Australia. For this reason, Aborigines had to ask permission to marry, visit relatives, and even to buy new shoes. In one particular scene, Neville denies an Aboriginal woman, Mary Wilson, permission to visit her daughter who is living at the Moore river settlement. His harsh statement is juxtaposed to seeing Mary on the other side of the window, crying on the steps of Neville’s office. These scenes demonstrate Neville’s distance from those he is ‘protecting’ as well as his indifference to the suffering of others.

Additionally, through editing of sound between two scenes, Neville appears to be very powerful and dominating over Aborigines. After Molly, Daisy and Gracie were cruelly torn away from their families, their mother and grandmother are lying on the desert ground, crying for their loss. At this point, a voice bridge links to the next scene, as Neville is addressing the white women explaining to them that “every Aborigine born in this State comes under [his] control”. Neville’s voice booms over the desert, making him appear to be omnipotent over the lives of all Aborigines. His cruel and ruthless tactics of protecting Aborigines is clearly demonstrated and the viewer is positioned to dislike him for this.

Nevertheless, Noyce has not created Neville’s character to be entirely unsympathetic. At times in the film, Neville is caring and well meaning, although he is showing it in the wrong way. In the scene in which Neville addresses the white women, he explains that “in spite of himself, the native must be helped”. He does not understand the impact his actions are causing to the Aborigines. He is trying to help them. Despite his bigoted attitudes toward Aborigines, Neville is removing aboriginal children for what he believes is their own good. In his opinion, the natives “have to be protected against themselves”.

In one of the final scenes of the movie, he is shown sitting at his desk, surrounded by his filing cabinets, work and order. He is very isolated from the world. The shot is shown tilting down at Neville, making him appear very small and lonely. Despite having brought it upon himself, the viewer feels some amount of pity toward him and his isolation since it was because of misunderstood and misguided opinions of Aboriginal welfare. He asks himself at the end “If they would only understand what we are trying to do for them”.

Noyce has created Neville as a very unsympathetic character through techniques. It is clearly demonstrated by the director that Neville’s treatment of Aborigines and his attitudes are terribly misguided, making him a very unlikeable. Neville is an unfair, cruel and dominating authoritarian. However, Noyce also shows Neville as well-meaning and misunderstood. At times, the director evoked sympathy toward Neville, despite his character being so unsympathetic.

Noyce, Phillip: Rabbit Proof Fence 2002, motion picture, Australia, Miramax Films.

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