“Some nomads are at home everywhere. Others are at home nowhere, and I was one of those.”
“Tracks” follows the real-life story of Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), an Australian writer who is best known for her unbelievable journey of 1700 miles through the Australian desert. Along with four camels and her loyal dog, Robyn walks from Alice Springs towards the westside of the island, until she reaches the Indian Ocean. Robyn is sponsored by National Geographic Magazine to pursue her quest, which resulted in a ground-breaking article in the magazine in 1978, accompanied by photos that her companion Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) took of her journey. Now, almost 36 years later, Robyn’s true story is being transformed to the silver screen.
“Tracks” is a beautiful and gripping film, directed by John Curran, who is best known for “The Painted Veil,” starring Naomi Watts. Curran has done a fantastic job in telling Robyn’s story accurately and beautifully. It is not an easy task, to make a film about a young woman traveling through the desert with only her camels and a dog to keep her company, but Curran has succeeded in capturing Robyn’s life-story. Images of Robyn’s present are alternated by images of the route on the map and of her younger self, running towards the sunset, towards something she cannot quite understand herself.
The production is wonderfully done: it looks so true and realistic, with the dusty costumes, tanned faces and sun-burned shoulders to match. Watching “Tracks,” you can almost feel the burning sun on your head and the desert-wind playing with your hair. “Tracks” is filmed on location and this is definitely noticeable. For 112 minutes, you find yourself traveling with Robyn and her animals, through the desert. The settings are so breathtakingly beautiful: the hot dust of the desert almost seems magical. Curran wants us to feel the loneliness and tragic beauty of Robyn’s story and the Australian desert, and he does this with grand shots of the landscape – miles and miles of dust, sand and dry country to cross, stretching on endlessly. He works with a steady camera, which serves to mirror Robyn’s stability.
Robyn Davidson is fearlessly and magnificently portrayed by young Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, known for Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” and Chan-wook Park’s “Stoker.” She is strong and really embodies the kind of woman Robyn needs to be to survive the journey through the desert – tough, independent, fearless. Wasikowska gives her character a sort of distanced charisma, which makes it easy for the audience to connect with her and the motives behind her journey. Her performance in “Tracks” is one of her best to date. Similarly, Wasikowska’s co-star Adam Driver is very believable in his portrayal of sweet and awkward photographer Rick. He lightens up the mood of the film, but, just like in the real story, falls away against the strength of Wasikowska.
But no matter how stunning and gripping Robyn’s journey is, “Tracks” has its flaws. Robyn traveling through the desert just seems too easy, too idyllic. She appears to overcome the struggles of her journey too easily – surviving a sandstorm, losing her camels, shooting at wild camels to protect herself, and losing her compass. The film passes swiftly through them and there is not enough time to build enough tension or emotion to really firmly grip the feeling of the situation.
For example, when Robyn loses her camels, she walks through the burning heath of the desert to find them again and you can feel her fear and anxiety for just a moment, but the filmmakers hastily move on again – to more happy sequences of Robyn dancing with the locals or sleeping in beds. “Tracks” lacks the sense of solitude that defines the heroine’s story. You’re never fully convinced that Robyn is completely alone, because she spends more of the film in the company of other people than she does on her own. This kind of breaks the illusion and withholds the film of really diving into that depth of the solitude of traveling and it would have been amazing to watch Wasikowska portray those moments.
“Tracks,” has a deeper, darker story underneath Robyn’s journey that the filmmakers have done a great job in telling, letting the audience solve the puzzle piece by piece. Robyn is always chasing the sunset and the audience follows her, chasing fragments of her past that are scattered throughout the film. Wasikowska understands how complicated her character is and she is very guarded, only giving audiences glimpses of how Roby truly feels.
Near the end of “Tracks,” the loneliness kicks in at last. The music is stripped to a bare minimum and the visuals become more gripping. Images of the dry ground of the desert, the stark-blue sky and the ever burning sun start to melt together, accompanied by haunting piano sounds. The composer, Garth Stevenson, is a newcomer to the world of film, but has done a fantastic job in creating music that expresses solitude. And as Robyn isolates herself from everyone except Rick, we wonder whether she will ever reach her goal: The Indian Ocean. “Tracks” is a visually and emotionally gripping film that will leave you wondering why you should not undertake a 1700 mile journey through the desert.Continue Reading Issue #8
September 19, 2014
1 hr. 52 min.
Biography, History, Drama, Adventure
Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Emma Booth, Jessica Tovey, Melanie Zanetti, Rainer Bock, Robert Coleby, Lily Pearl