One Girl’s Journey Across the Australian Desert

Director: JOHN CURRAN/2014

Tracks is based on the true story of Robyn Davidson who tracked 1700 miles across the Australian desert with 4 camels and her dog in the late 1970’s.  Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Stoker) plays the title character.  A bit of a loner, Robyn prefers solace and isolation rather than being around people.  Her dog is a better companion than any friend she might have.

Robyn experienced the loss of her mother at a young age and was driven to follow in her father’s footsteps as an explorer.  She has planned out her entire trip, but has one small hiccup.  She has no money and no access to trained camels which she will need for her journey to carry the supplies.  Robyn finds work in any small town on her way.  Tending bar gets her by until she is able to land a job working for free at a camel ranch in exchange for 2 camels of her own once her time serving there is up.

It is through this job that Robyn is trained in how to break a camel and domesticate it.  Australia has the largest feral camel population in the world, and the sight of an angry bull (male) is enough to instill well-deserved fear in any who find themselves in its path.  Bonding with these animals will be a must.

Robyn finds shelter in an abandoned house, which has no roof, that she is quickly able to turn into a home while she prepares for the journey ahead..  The film shows us, rather than telling us through the dialogue, what true contentment looks like.  Basic food, water, shelter, and companionship is all that Robyn needs.  Even a visit from her friends makes her feel out of place.  When her friends do show up, a man by the name of Rick Smolan (Adam Driver-Girls, Inside Llewyn Davis) accompanies them.

Rick is a photographer and he is intrigued by Robyn’s quest to walk the 1700 mile desert.  It is through Rick, that funding from National Geographic comes through to sponsor Robyn’s journey.  Their only catch is that Rick accompany her, taking pictures for the journey.

Mia Wasikowska put a lot of hard work into this role, and it really pays off in the subtle human touches that she is able to express along her journey.  We get a sense of her passion as she talks to her dog.  We see her boldness as she is preparing for the journey.  We witness her sensitivity as she swims in a water reservoir, that she comes across while on her journey, and through her interactions with her aborigine guide and others along the way.  Not much is said, but a lot is conveyed through her non-verbals.

Adam Driver plays Rick with a quiet resolve of kindness under his moppy, unkempt hair.  Looking like a stoned-out version of Ross from the hit show Friends when he was in his “mustache” phase, Adam’s character of Rick none-the-less provides a calm support to Mia’s Robyn that is both tender and genuine.  Even when he causes a major squall, jeopardizing Robyn’s trip, his heart is in the right place.

Shot on location, the cinematography from Mandy Walker provides spectacular shots of the Australian desert that maintain its wild nature while showcasing its beauty.  Director John Curran structures the film to feel like we are on the journey ourselves, though in so doing, runs the film time about 20 minutes too long.  This is not to say that the story suffers or becomes less compelling.  It just may feel a bit long for those watching it at their local theater.

The idea of family, companionship, love, and intimacy with other humans is a struggle for Robyn to grasp, and a central theme of the film.  Through flashbacks we get a sense of the pain she feels for the loss of her mother.  We also see the strain that weighs on the relationship between Robyn and her Dad.  The bond she has with her dog, as well as her evolving connection with the camels serves as a surrogate fill-in for the real thing: romantic love.

It is when she has tastes of intimacy and friendship that we truly get to see Mia Wasikowska deliver on the character’s depth.  From her fickle passion for Rick, her playful respect for the Aborigine elder who escorts her for part of the way, to the older couple she meets along the journey, Robyn craves true love and human connection. She retreats often into the journey, where she is away from having to deal with real emotions that are required when interacting with other people.

Tracks is a small, but delightful film, with an inspiring story behind it.  The cast is top-notch and all involved play their respective parts with a admirable nuance that is missing in so many other small, independent films.  Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver have great chemistry on the screen together, and the story would have benefitted from having more Adam Driver in it.  Tracks opens at select theaters, so you may have to search for it, but it will be worth it if you do find it…..Just like the journey of Robyn Davison.