Written by Lola Sterrett.
What kind of person travels 1,700 miles across the Australian Outback? Tracks, directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), depicts Robyn Davidson’s infamous 1977 trek from Alice Springs to just south of Carnarvon, with only her dog Diggity and four camels accompanying her.
The beginning half of the film shows Robyn, played by Mia Wasikowska, struggling to acquire the resources and skill set to begin her journey. The film opens with Robyn entering Alice Springs with just a suitcase and her dog Diggity by her side. On her first day in town she enters the local pub and is given a job and a room. After witnessing the pub throwing out an aboriginal woman, Robyn quits her job and seeks out Kurt Posen, a grouchy German man who runs a local camel farm. Robyn agrees to work eight months for free in exchange for two camels. Interestingly enough, after her tenure at Posen’s farm comes to an end, a local camel wrangler Mohammad comments that if she survived Posen for eight months than she can have a job with him, not realising that she survived with Posen because the man was more or less a future version of Robyn, as she becomes increasingly disillusioned with humanity. It is around this time that Robyn meets photographer Rick Smolan (played by Adam Driver), who later accompanies Robyn on parts of her journey – much to her annoyance. Most of her annoyance derives from the fact that she views his photos of her as false and disingenuous versions of her travels.
Whilst it may annoy some viewers that Robyn never gives a distinct reason for embarking on her trek, the ambiguity works well. By not having a well-defined reason, the film allows the viewer to try and puzzle out the catalyst for her journey, creating a bond between viewer and protagonist. It is this bond which makes the film a success, as without it would just be nearly two hours of a woman, her dog and some camels pointlessly traversing the harsh Australian outback, which certainly sounds like a contender for the dullest film ever made. However, as a quiet contemplation on the human spirit, Tracks is far from dull, and viewing the film feels very much like a spiritual experience.
Throughout the film we see exactly what kind of person Robyn is. She resents the company of other people, is insolent, rude and there is a steeliness to her that is incredibly sharp. It would have been easy for Mia Wasikowska to play Robyn as a one dimensional character, only emphasising her disrespect for the people and society around her. Instead, Wasikowska injects a valuable sense of vulnerability to the role. Robyn’s love of animals and the Australian outback, coupled with her fierce loyalty to the rare few people who won her respect, help to create a depiction of Robyn as a real human being, rather than just a caricature of one.
The same can be said for the way in which Curran handles his portrait of Australia. Although it seems that every Australian film is contracted to act as an Australian Tourism ad, with Tracks there is a sense of melancholy when viewing the Australian landscape. Although beautiful, the isolation and deadliness of the environment is felt acutely and this feeling is further enhanced by Garth Stevenson’s wonderful score.
Tracks is quite possibly one of the best films to come out of Australia in the last five years. The film, an adaptation of Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her 1,700 mile journey, could have been a disaster, but instead we get a movie that will stick with you for days. A memorable experience that should be shared by everyone, not only Australians.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10