TRACKS. Starring: Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver. Directed by John Curran. Rated M (Coarse language). 113 min.
This Australian drama is an adaptation of Robyn Davidson's 1980 novel of the same name that depicts her trek across the Western desert of Australia from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in 1977. She walked the 2700 km. accompanied by four camels and a dog, and became widely known as "The Camel Lady and her black dog".
37 years after her walk, a film about her achievement has emerged, and it is beautifully shot by the film's cinematographer, Mandy Walker. The trek took 9 months to complete, and Davidson was joined on it at least seven times by a National Geographic Magazine photographer, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) with whom she had a now-and-again romantic relationship. Smolan communicated Davidson's adventure to the public through an article Davidson wrote, with pictures he took, in a 1978 issue of the National Geographic Magazine. The film captures dramatically the solitude and courage of Davidson's perilous journey, and Mia Wasikowska brilliantly takes the title role.
This is a moving reenactment of an extraordinary journey. The scenic wonders of outback Australia with its aridness, unforgiving nature and majestic grandeur are captured stunningly, and they form an evocative background to the true story of a strong-willed, young woman who willingly faced the enormous physical and spiritual challenges of self-imposed solitude. Davidson chose solitude as her way of existence at that time of her life. Willing it herself, solitude for Davidson was always distinct from loneliness, and her embrace of it in the film is deeply affecting. She knows that her desire to be alone is both a weakness and a strength. It is a weakness because it pulls her away from social contact with people, even those she likes. It is a strength, because it expresses her personal courage to experience life in the way she chooses to do.
The film is essentially in three parts. The first part shows Davidson getting ready for the trip, assessing its pitfalls, and training her camels. The second part focuses on the physical and mental challenges of a very difficult and exacting journey. The third part concentrates on the fulfilment of her journey, and coheres the movie into a moving finale. The first part is slow, with a voice-over using Davidson's words. The second is absorbing with memorable scenes such as Davidson's dog leading her back to her camels after she becomes lost in the desert, and her surrendering her independence to an elderly couple in the middle of the desert, who reach out to her when she desperately needs their help. The third part brings the movie to a soaring conclusion.
Mia Wasikowska delivers a beautifully crafted performance as Davidson, and Adam Driver injects needed ordinariness and humour into his role as the New York photographer who falls in love with her. Rejecting at first the need for intimacy, Davidson sees Smolan as compromising her search for solitude, but the lure of closeness becomes strong, especially in moments of personal stress. Wasikowska makes sure that the steely edge of Davidson is always visible and she never fails to show the inner strength that drove Davidson on. Her performance is restrained and finely judged, and it confirms her status as one of Australia's finest actresses.
There are hints in the movie of the racism and bigotry that existed at the time which may have been responsible for driving Davidson into her solitude. And her inner escape must partly reflect her reaction to her mother's suicide when she was 11yrs. old, and the difficult childhood she spent away from her father. For Davidson, conformity bred resistance.
This is an emotionally powerful movie that demonstrates one woman's fierce determination to experience a life of solitude, and it is compelling viewing. Solitude existed for Davidson, as she chose to experience it. Occasionally, it is almost too much for her to bear, and solitude slips into loneliness.
The movie leaves us uncertain at its end about why exactly Davidson made her trek across Australia. It is not enough to say "I like to think I'm the only person capable of doing it". Whatever is the reason, this impressively made movie about her achievement is an extraordinarily involving one, and richly deserves to be seen.
Peter W Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Released March 7th., 2014