In 1977, Robyn Davidson journeyed 1,700 miles across the terrifying Australian outback to the Indian Ocean with four camels and a dog. John Curran’s film “Tracks” recounts the real-life story of courage, insecurity and dehydration with the wonderful Mia Wasikowska as the frontliner on a serenely breathtaking adventure.
“Tracks” explores the grit of Davidson as she quenches her thirst for isolation from urban society. Visually fluctuating between the rare beauty of the deserts and their daunting harshness, “Tracks” is a cinematic painting; getting lost has never been this captivating.
“Why not?” Davidson retorts when anyone questions her decision to go through with such an intimidating trek. She learns how to capture and train camels to aid as essential junk carriers along with her dog, Diggity.
Forced by her failed attempts to compensate her campaign through bar-backing and apprenticeships, Davidson writes National Geographic about her objective and agrees to have the magazine chronicle her journey through the lens of photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver). Smolan appears periodically to provide her with necessities such as water, occasional banter and human interaction.
As she makes it halfway through her journey, Davidson needs to cross certain sacred Aboriginal areas. According to the Aboriginal culture, a woman cannot step into these lands without at least one male escort. She meets an Aboriginal man named Eddie (Roly Mintuma) who eagerly agrees to guide her through the sacred tribal areas. The language and cultural barriers are almost too dense to be permeated, yet he and Davidson find a way to communicate, which is humbly endearing.
Even when external forces breach Davidson’s solitude, Curran wants viewers to feel the scorching breeze, the constant anxiety for danger and the joy of being alone.
Cinematographer Mandy Walker impressively paints a meditative landscape of the desert while still flirting with the element of caution. Screenwriter Marion Nelson keeps the script succinct, permitting the actors — as well as the director — to convey more with their chemistry.
This chemistry between Wasikowska and Driver demonstrates remarkably how they portray their characters. Every scene with Driver is like a water break, especially when the film gets a little too dry to digest.
Wasikowska not only mirrors Davidson’s weathered grace, but she also radiates her mental stability through strong yet silent movements. Wasikowska is serious; her artistry enchants one into mustering bravery and stepping into the outback. She garnered international attention after playing the lead role in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” and in the HBO series “In Treatment.” Although it doesn’t seem like she’s on the hunt for any prestigious awards with “Tracks,” she has crossed the border of potential and become a skilled actress.
Davidson’s expedition has helped fuel a rebirth of feminism and has also opened the minds of Australians to the more pressing issue concerning the lives of the Aborigines. Although “Tracks” seems to lag, the engrossing scenes of Davidson making decisions with no time to waste keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
The film engages the concept of “being all by yourself,” asking if self-liberation can possibly be found in today’s busy, technology-driven world. “Tracks” allows for the analysis of the consequences of liberty.
The film preaches that we shouldn’t worry about getting lost; everybody does at some point. Nobody really knows what he or she will find in this journey we call life. Hopefully, like Davidson, we’ll find an inspiring, crystal-clear ocean.
“Tracks” is playing at Embarcadero Center Cinema.