His name is Eric. Not that you'd know.
In this era—10 years after an economic cataclysm—names mean very little, and what little meaning they do have Eric is loath to lose. He never offers to give his. Few even ask. Eric holds his words like gold, giving them rarely and reluctantly. In a land so bereft of comfort and treasure, perhaps they're the only thing of value Eric has. Well, and perhaps his car.
One nameless day, as Eric sadly sips water at a walled blotch in the road, a trio of crooks crashes nearby. They hop out of their stuck truck, hotwire Eric's dusty sedan and blast on down the highway.
Such thefts are not so unusual in this dry and desolate Australia. Bystanders treat them as more diversion than crime. There is no law to rely on, no emergency number to dial. People steal and are stolen from. They cheat and are cheated. They kill and die. If justice or revenge is what you seek, you must find it yourself.
Something snaps in Eric. He doesn't want justice, doesn't want revenge. He wants his car. And he'll do anything to get it.
Down the road, Eric picks up Rey, the brother of one of the car thieves. The simpleminded Rey was shot in the gut and abandoned—a liability for his fleeing comrades, it would seem. Eric rescues the young man and takes him to a doctor—not out of kindness, mind you, but because he might know where the thieves are.
To Eric, Rey's an asset, merely a tool to be used and discarded. But to Rey, Eric's more than just a rescuer or kidnapper. He's a benevolent master, perhaps even a strange friend. And with his brother having abandoned him, Rey transfers his innate unwavering loyalty to this new, harsh benefactor.
When Eric's picked up by soldiers (the only law left in Australia, it would seem, and I'm using the term law quite loosely), Rey follows and rescues him (in a strikingly negative way, but still). Rey loans Eric money, too. Quite simply, he cares for Eric. And in this desolate land where affection is scarcer than ice, that's not insignificant.
The doctor is the only other person here who seems to give even half a rip anymore. She tenderly stitches up Rey and treats Eric more kindly than he deserves, refusing payment for her services. We also find out that she tends to and hides a whole bunch of kenneled dogs so wanderers won't kill them for food.
At first, Rey tells Eric that his brother still loves him—in part because they both believe in and love God. Eric tries to snuff out Rey's faith, telling him God "put a bullet in you" and left him for dead. "God gave you a brother who's not even thinking about you right now," Eric says. "Your brother left you to die. That's what people do."
Rey sports a tattoo of a figure who seems to be meditating or praying. We hear an old spiritual ("I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say") playing in the background of one scene.
Eric stumbles into what seems to be a decrepit whorehouse, walking through rooms filled with dazed and sleeping occupants. The place's madam, known as Grandma, asks Eric, "Do you want something? Do you want to sleep with a boy?"
In another dilapidated building, we see a man lying on another man's lap. Eric tells a soldier that 10 years earlier he killed his wife and her lover, and there's explicit talk of the offending couple's sex acts.
At a motel, hearing someone knock and fiddle with the door, an unsupervised Rey shoots through the wood. When he opens the door, he finds a little girl lying dead. He's devastated and later admits that he can't get the girl out of his head. "You shouldn't," Eric tells him. "You should never stop thinking about a life you've taken. That's the price you pay for taking it."
Eric, though, readily pays that price over and over. In pursuit of his car, he attempts to purchase a gun, but when the price is too high he shoots the seller in the head, splattering blood and brain across the wall. He guns down three people outside the doctor's house, after they shoot the doctor's companion in the head. Maybe a half-dozen others fall to Eric's lethal skill, shot messily in either the head or chest. He pulls several of his victims onto a makeshift funeral pyre and sets the whole works alight. He chokes one man and roughly shoves a woman to the ground, practically folding her in half. He's knocked out by the butt of a gun.
Rey shoots others, too, while rescuing Eric. Three soldiers are dead when the mission is accomplished, two slumped against a blood-covered wall. Elsewhere, we see a soldier's neck grotesquely opened as he gasps his last. Another man gets shot through the neck and falls, bleeding out in a veritable sea of red. Dead bodies hang from telephone poles. Rey's wound gets stitched, but even afterwards it looks mighty ugly and painful.
Crude or Profane Language
Few words are spoken in The Rover, but at least 40 of them are f-words. Two c-words are spit out as well, along with a half-dozen or more s-words. God's name is combined with "d‑‑n" five or six times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
People lie around or sit around in their underwear. We see part of Rey's backside as he prepares to defecate. Eric urinates, then zips up his fly.
"You must really love that car, darling," Grandma tells Eric. And he apparently does, so much so that he's willing to kill for it. And why wouldn't he in a world where life is bought and sold on the cheap? Indeed, The Rover gives us a glimpse of what it looks like for life, at least human life, to be deemed as precious as the parched earth, as valued as the weeds that grow everywhere. Eric tells a soldier that when he killed his wife and her lover, the fact that no one seemed to care was almost as bad as the deed itself.
"Do something like that and no one comes after you," he says. "To do a thing like I did, that should mean something."
The fact that dogs are so treasured—the dogs the doctor cares for, for instance—speaks clearly to how undervalued human life is in this Down Under dystopia. Dogs seem to be the superior species since they do care, at least, for beings besides themselves. So it's telling that Rey, the most admirable character we meet, is also the most doglike: vaguely innocent, a bit dumb, oh so very loyal.
And in his undiscerning affection, Rey becomes lovable, even to the vicious, driven Eric.
But as doting as dogs can be, they can also bite, just as The Rover does. Director David Michôd has purposefully put together a brutal, bitter movie—the kind of story that assaults the senses and can harm the soul. Despite the doctor, no one is healed in this dire and dusty drama. No one is saved. No one has reason to hope.
The Rover may admire Rey for his doglike ways. But it still acts like Eric.