Having grown up in a house in which Lawrence of Arabia features very highly on a list of heroes, it is not hard to see why the desert has such a magnetic pull to those wanting to explore. Clearly thinking along the same lines, Robyn Davidson, bored with the hustle and bustle of city life, decided to walk the Australian desert, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean; a journey which in total is nearly two thousand miles. Requiring serious planning, the first part of the film chronicles these early stages of preparation and the first thing to do is to find some camels. The film moves with considerable pace through the two or three years leading up to the actual journey but once the journey itself starts, the pace of the film slows right down, as for what everyone is calling a ridiculous and mad journey, the immediate dangers are limited. Instead Tracks is a film about perseverance, and the difficulties arise from the sheer stamina needed to complete the physically tough and mentally draining six month trek.
Often literary accounts of journeys are not measured by a physical distance, but by an inner one; making it not an account of a newly discovered land, but a sentimental journey of inner discovery. Refreshingly, Robyn Davidson’s account really is a story about her, the camels and the incredibly gorgeous and mysterious terrain of the Australian outback. Opening with the following quotation from Robyn: “And there are new kinds of nomads, not people who are at home everywhere, but who are at home nowhere. I was one of them”, the film tells you immediately that this is not going to be an over wrought, sentimental drama about someone finding themselves. Instead what we have is a stirring yet unsentimental account of a journey, in which the physical distance, not the inner one comes to the fore. Certainly, with a scarcity of characters, a lot of the information comes from a voiceover of Davidson, or flashbacks into her childhood. But once the logistics and the origin of the journey are done with, the voiceover disappears and the script gives way to the external voice; Robyn’s conversations and actions. There is no denying however, that a journey of this magnitude will create a certain level of emotional stress, but except for one blunt and honest exclamation of ‘I’m so alone’ to National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), the only insights we get are through Davidson’s actions.
Any emotional turmoil is balanced perfectly with the smatterings of humour and few human relationships the film offers. Davidson’s friendship with her guide through the holy lands Eddie, played by Roly Mintuma, is one conducted via gesticulation rather than words. It provides an upbeat and positive interlude as Eddie’s good humour is infectious, extenuating the fact that this journey, whilst hard, is not born out of a negative mind-set. Equally Adam Driver’s Smolan is similarly cheerful, much to the distain of Davidson, and their more ambivalent relationship is equally fun to watch as his keen attempts at friendship are often met with a ‘fuck off’.
But it is the character of Davidson herself who takes centre stage here, as it is after all a solo undertaking. Mia Wasikowska’s portrayal of this women attempting to shun human interaction to be alone with her dog and newly acquired camels is wonderfully honest. Her affinity with the animals, which she seems to prefer to people, is clear. It is a truly physical performance in which both her strength and vulnerability is captured simply through her movement, and in particular the ever so frequent act of walking.
The film is a wonderfully truthful account of someone’s desire to do something bold and different, not, as she describes, to prove something, but simply because, well ‘why not?’ The landscape the film portrays is stunning and disquietingly unsettling at the same time. For anyone who has ever fantasised about a similar exploration, the film embodies the magic of a voyage into the unknown and plays beautifully on all your dreams of adventure and faraway lands.