Poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman said, “The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun struck hills every day.” One such high-spirited thoroughbred is Australian naturalist Robyn Davidson who, at the age of 27, crossed the Australian outback in 1977 from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with only four camels and her dog as companions. Nominated for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival, Director John Curran’s Tracks documented Davidson’s nine-month journey of 1677 miles without adding layers of melodrama to distract us from her true spirit of adventure and love of nature.
Based on Robyn Davidson’s classic travel book of the same name and supported by the extraordinary cinematography of Mandy Walker and the lovely score by Garth Stevenson, Tracks follows Robyn as she travels solo across the unfathomable desert. Sponsored by National Geographic magazine, photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) was chosen by the magazine to photograph her journey for the magazine, but only meets up with her at scattered points during her trip. Davidson at first finds Rick annoyingly over-talkative, but slowly warms to his support and caring and they become friends, while still keeping their distance.
Not much information is given as to Robyn’s motivations in undertaking this adventure, but the film does provide flashbacks over the course its running time informing us about events in the naturalist’s past involving loss and disappointment. In some ways, comparable to Chris McCandless’ odyssey as documented in Sean Penn’s 2007 film “Into the Wild,” Robyn’s goal is to convince herself that she is up to the task of following her own path without having to conform to society’s expectations. In spite of her need for solitude, however, she learns to compromise with friends and reach an understanding with visiting journalists looking for a story, even though at one point she says to a resident of the desert, “It’s hard to explain that I just want perfectly nice people to shut up and die.”
Though Robyn does her best to avoid the unwanted company, she eventually recognizes her need for support from others, not only from Rick, but also from an Aboriginal elder named Eddy (Roly Mintuma), who accompanies her to make sure that she avoids the Aboriginal’s sacred land. Mia Wasikowska as Davidson perfectly captures the sharp edges of her enigmatic personality while still retaining her adamant refusal to be the effect of her social limitations. It is a strong performance that may earn her consideration for a Best Actress award at the 2014 Oscars.
Though some viewers may become restless with the unchanging landscape and the lack of overt drama, obstacles do appear in the form of wild bull camels charging towards her and the need for her to take a 160 mile detour to avoid Aboriginal lands. While Tracks has a surprising amount of clutter for an adventure into the wild, as Davidson comes closer to her goal, the growing quiet and emptiness of the vast outback turns her journey into an experience that assumes a dreamlike and spiritual aura.
Through it all, her fierce determination to accomplish her goal while still retaining her sense of self grows stronger. Davidson in a recent interview said that “At the time, all young people pretty much wanted to do extraordinary things and extend the limits of what had been given to them as their roles.” Poet e e cummings agrees, saying, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battles which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.” That is the legacy of Robyn Davidson.