Film Review: Tracks

Tracks is a film based on Robyn Davidson’s book of the same name, in which she describes an extraordinary journey she made in the late 70s, while still in her 20s. Davidson travelled over 1700 miles from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, across Western Australia and its desert, alone save for some camels and her faithful dog.

Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) spends two years in Alice Springs learning how to capture, train and care for camels, as well as trying to rustle up three for the journey. While she’s working on acquiring her camels, she has a chance encounter with an American photographer, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) who suggests she seek sponsorship for her trip. Robyn contacts National Geographic, who agree to fund her travels, on the condition that a photographer be sent to meet up with her at various points to document her journey. The photographer turns out to be Rick, who Robyn has limited patience for. Saying farewell to her family, Robyn, Diggity (her dog) and her (now four) camels set off on their quest, preparing to spend the majority of the next seven months alone in a vast and relentless desert.

I really liked Tracks. It was beautiful to look at, very well acted and the best kind of thought-provoking, reflective storytelling. When discussing it afterwards, my friend noted that watching it left her feeling really peaceful, and I think that sums up my experience perfectly.

You have a definite sense that Robyn is running away from something – perhaps even herself – and she is clearly restless in her life. However, I rather liked that no concrete reason is given for Robyn’s choice to make the journey. There are hints throughout the film about things she is trying to come to terms with, but the answer does sometimes feel as simple as the one she provides: ‘why not?’ It’s refreshing to see a journey narrative that doesn’t come with easy answers about what making that trip will mean for Davidson and I feel the story is made more compelling by the fact that she clearly feels no explanation is owed. This is what she wants to do, so she’s doing it. Interestingly, many of the other desert-dwelling characters she meets in the film are accepting of her choice and seem uninterested in the whys and hows. Davidson has found a place that will allow her peace.

While Robyn meets many people throughout her journey (Aboriginal elder Eddie and the older couple who offer her shelter being my favourite encounters) there’s no denying that the heavy lifting of the film is done by Mia Wasikowska. She is in every shot, every moment of the story. Wasikowska is an Australian herself and bears a more than passing resemblance to Davidson, but what makes her the perfect choice for this film is the skill and feeling she brings to her performance. Aside from some narration at the start, there is very little dialogue, even when Davidson is with other people; so much of what we understand about Davidson, her journey and her feelings about what she’s doing depends on Wasikowska and how she plays it. Very few actresses as young as she is could take on that role and make it so consistently compelling. Her changes of expression are minute and sometimes totally unreadable, but Wasikowska never lets you forget Davidson’s rich and turbulent inner life, whether we know what she’s thinking or not. There is something really powerful about the self-containment and silence Wasikowska brings to the role, demonstrating to the audience Davidson’s inner strength and total commitment to what she’s doing.

Wasikowska’s main co-star in the film is the landscape she travels across. One of the most striking things I took away from the film was just how beautiful Australia is. The camera travels with Davidson across harsh, unbelievable lands, dense with colour and seeming so alive, even in their barren state. The camera soaks up the scenery, filling the screen with wide, tracking shots, evoking the energy and look of Rick Smolan’s photos. I woke up the next morning still thinking about the film’s images.

I would enthusiastically recommend seeing Tracks if you get the chance. It was moving, fascinating story of one young woman’s seemingly impossible journey and I defy anyone not to feel a yearning to visit Australia by the end.

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