Off the beaten track: Finally, a realistic adventure film
There are a lot of 'adventure' films out there – as a matter of fact, nearly every film features some sort of adventure, whether physical or spiritual – but there’s something about Tracks that’s just a little bit different.
To start with, the film is based on the true and incredible story of a woman named Robyn Davidson, who trekked 1,700 miles with her loyal canine companion and four camels across the deserts of West Australia until she reached the Indian ocean.
Her trek was sponsored by National Geographic magazine, who sent photographer Rick Smolan to tag along.
It garnered international interest and Davidson eventually wrote a novel about her experience. Now, over 30 years later, she helped write the screenplay for director John Curran’s film.
Alone in a crowd
The film opens with a voice-over attempting to explain Davidson’s (Wasikowska) decision to embark on the reckless journey – no matter where she goes, she doesn’t seem to fit in with the people she meets.
In fact, it becomes increasingly apparent that this intelligent, attractive, relatively well-off woman just wants to be alone.
Despite her best efforts, not telling any of her friends where she has gone, she can’t seem to get any space. Her friends track her down and insist on spending one last night with her before she leaves.
This scene is perfectly captured by Curran – as she attempts to socialise with her drunken friends, a hand-held camera accompanied by unnerving background music reflects her anxiety and general discomfort with these people, providing a stark contrast to the utter peace and tranquility of when she escapes to spend time with her camels.
Freedom at last?
Soon after, she finally hits the road – cue the optimistic music and shots of beautiful Australian landscapes – but this moment is interrupted as soon as it starts, as she is confronted by her overly-talkative photographer, Rick (Driver), who will be periodically accompanying her on the journey.
What’s worse is that he insists upon glorifying her travel, making her smile and pose for photos on her camels, leading her to bitterly question him about his integrity as a journalist and accuse him of being "part of the problem."
It’s a fascinating paradox: if it weren’t for this National Geographic sponsorship, she wouldn’t be able to go on the journey, but Rick manages to deprive her of every moment of authenticity and genuine interaction by forcing her to pose for these photos.
Aboriginals in the outback
Nonetheless, as she gets deeper into the journey, Davidson manages to detach from all of this and get some solitude.
The stunning landscape is masterfully captured through overhead shots showing the massive expanse surrounding this lonesome figure.
Along the way she stumbles upon an Aborginal settlement, leading to a series of heartfelt and hilarious moments, especially with Eddie (Minutuma), who uses his native wisdom to lead her through the sacred lands of the outback.
Realistic depiction of travel
Childhood flashbacks are cleverly integrated into her journey, revealing her traumatic upbringing and the roots of her desire to travel.
Though perhaps the best aspect of this film is that there is no clear message or logic – we can trace patterns in life, but nobody can explain why things happen the way they do – nor is there any overbearing advertisement for spontaneity or travel.
Instead, what we see is a realistic, beautiful and emotional journey as it is, with just as many tears as smiles – not the version that people want to read about in a National Geographic magazine.
Directed by John Curran; US adventure, 2013, 112 mins;
Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Roly Mintuma, Emma Booth, Rainer Bock
Premieres 7 August