SPOILER WARNING: The Rover (David Michôd, 2014)
Death is all that occurs in The Rover (David Michôd, 2014). As the film follows the vengeful Eric (Guy Pearce) and half-wit Rey (Robert Pattinson) on their journey across the post-collapse Australian landscape, it soon becomes apparent that their path will only sow one thing. Eric harbors no qualms about killing those that get in his way, even if they are only doing so in his perception. But Eric being a cold-blooded killer is not enough to simply establish the film as a desert devoid of life. This feat is accomplished by way of a variety of elements that pervade the film, with Eric’s propensity for quickly ending the lives of others being only one of many. This is not to say that Eric is simply a tool utilized by The Rover to fulfill its quest for utter lifelessness, as he is clearly coherent and calculating in his actions, but even he is aware that his actions are somewhat futile. The Rover sows only death as it follows a bloody revenge campaign, but its uncompromising nature moves the film past the simple classification of being a high body count action movie to a portrait of utter bleakness.
There are no flashbacks or flash-forwards in The Rover. While this feature does serve the film in the sense that suspense is maintained, it also gives the film a distinctly episodic sensibility. As the film follows Eric, it becomes apparent that this character has existed long before the events of the film came to be. He is marked with history, both by his interactions with others and also by his battle-scarred body. He does not speak of what has physically hurt him, and he also refuses any help to tend his new wounds. For Eric, the past is the past and nothing can change it, but the present and the future are the same. He does not harbor any hope of truly changing the way things are. Instead, he only focuses on himself and what he wants. He behaves as and indeed is a man with nothing to lose. His car is his only true focus, and though he encounters others along the way that are sympathetic towards him and even aid him, Eric does not ever develop any sympathy for them. He is utterly detached from the world around him, and he only enters it when he must. The early shot of the crashing vehicle silently passing by Eric as he drinks in a bar illustrates as much. The world is of no concern to him until it tampers with him, which occurs when his car is stolen.
When Eric journeys into the world, though, he brings only death. Whether it is those that he kills by his own hand or the others that die as a result of his actions, Eric is nothing but a fatalistic force. Whether is be cold-blooded murder which leads to the death of others, such as Eric’s killing of the gun dealer, or Rey’s killing of three soldiers to rescue him, Eric is only a catalyst of the demise of others. This does not bother him though, as he knows that his world has already ended and he can see the end of everyone else’s world before him. Feeling remorse not over his murdering of his wife and her lover ten years prior, but instead over the fact that he has never been punished for this deed, Eric sees the world as a place that has died. His original sin occurred a decade earlier, as the world fell. But this action has become to norm in the world that Eric now finds himself in, making him the same as almost everyone else. This fact does not sit well with Eric, as he still believes that he should be punished for an atrocity that has become less than it once was.
This is how the film moves beyond a simple tale of on man’s revenge quest. While it certainly is this on one level, it is interesting that Eric is not that different from those that surround him. The Rover simply chooses to follow Eric, but it is made clear that there are countless others just like him. The soldiers that patrol the landscape only work for money, and their corruption is seemingly well-known and also ignored. They are just doing what they need to do to survive. They may fancy themselves above the common people that scrounge the landscape, as is indicated by the soldier (Anthony Hayes) that tells Eric he will be sent to Sydney, but in truth little separates them. Eric knows this, and he voices as much when he compares himself to the soldiers. The various other people that fill the film are the same as well. Everyone is desperate, everyone kills, and this is the fact that disturbs Eric so. He believes that his actions should be unacceptable, instead of the norm.
In the end, Eric’s vendetta leads to the death of almost everyone but himself. Rey is killed by his brother (Scoot McNairy) as a result of actions set in motion by Eric. Even though he insists that he “did nothing,” the audience knows this to be untrue. Eric has brought about the death and destruction of all that he has encountered, and Rey’s demise is no different. However, before they enter the house for their final bloody confrontation, Eric shows a moment of hesitation as he sits in his newly regained car. But this moment is ended by the eagerness of Rey with his quest for revenge against his brother. This interruption is not so much Eric being interrupted by an external force, but by Eric’s actions interrupting himself. He is the one that has set Rey on the path that he begins to eagerly follow, and in the end he cannot contain the violence that he has set in motion. The actions that follow are not only the tragic conclusion of a brotherhood, but also the most visceral example of the unique touch that Eric has on those that surround him. With everyone now dead, Eric burns the bodies, takes back his car, and returns back towards whatever life he may have had before the beginning of the film.
The final revelation that Eric’s motivation for regaining his car was so that he could bury his dog is both understated and consistent with the rest of the film. Like he buried the bodies of his wife and her lover years before, Eric now buries the body of presumably the only other living thing that mattered to him. Burial is something that is reserved for those that actually matter to Eric. He burns the body of Rey and his associates, he leaves the bodies of countless others strewn about, but places in the ground those that have actually mattered to him. This does not exclude the man with whom his wife had an affair. While this distinction is odd, it should be noted that Eric hoped that his actions towards this nameless man would bring about his own punishment. In many ways, this man is just as important to Eric as his wife was, as they both represent a life that has long since died. The dog that Eric buries in The Rover’s conclusion is never spoken of or elaborated on, but because it is afforded a treatment that Eric has given few others, it is obviously important to him in comparison to everyone else. Though he said that he was a farmer, Eric’s old lifestyle died when everything else did, and now he does not grow anything. Instead, death is all that arises in his presence.