God’s greatest gifts to humans: Hope, Jokes, and Dogs –
When I want to go to the Outback, I hop into my car, drive for about 10 minutes, then get of my car and walk into the restaurant. Yes, it is the Outback, but it isn’t in Australia. This is Sarasota, FL.
In Tracks, film actress Mia Wasikowska, portrayed the Australian naturalist Robyn Davidson, who, in 1977, actually walked from Alice Springs, in Central Australia, in a westerly direction to reach the Indian Ocean.
The distance covered was nearly 1700 miles, and the walk took almost nine months. Robyn was accompanied by four camels and a faithful dog called Diggity. Occasionally, or more accurately, once in a very great while, she’d meet some local settlers, or some Aboriginal people, as well as Rick Smolan, who was sporadically photographing Robyn as the trek proceeded, for her sponsor, The National Geographic magazine.
Once the story got some traction – at one point Robyn found herself facing a few carloads of both national and international representatives of the press. Notice I didn’t say media. I said press and for a very good reason. In 1977, it was the newspapers that provided the where and the how for most of us, all over the world, to get our news.
For Robyn, this was a less than an ideal situation. A certified iconoclast as well as something of a loner, Robyn was on this trek because she wanted solitude, and she wanted to be off by herself. Though we are not given any lengthy explanations (Wasikowska as Robyn does an occasional voice over narrative), the flashback structure showed that she came from a problematic upbringing – an often absent father who was an explorer himself, and a desolate mother who would later hang herself.
Robyn herself, despite her relentless determination to finish what she had started, preferred the company of her dog rather than friends or relatives. Later in the picture, Robyn would tell Adam Driver, who played the photographer that she was troubled by the fact that often, she felt like she would like to tell ‘perfectly nice people to not only leave her alone, but to also go off and crawl into a hole and die’.
Robyn arrives in Alice Springs looking for work and to learn how to deal with, train, and have command over camels. She asked for work, any kind of work, in exchange for food and lodging. She also learned about camels at a camel breeding station. It took her two years to learn how to work with camels, as well as acquiring a sponsor. And whoever she spoke to did not give her any encouragement.
So on a particular day in 1977 she set off into the Outback, on foot, with four camels bearing all her gear, and her trusted companion, the black Lab dog Diggity at her side.
She said she needed four camels, those ships of the desert, those beasts of burden, to carry her gear. I’m not sure why she had four camels as we didn’t see her in any kind of a formal structure ever. She had no tent, and no portable stove. She seemingly slept beneath the stars every night.
Maybe the main thing the camels bore, were water tanks.
We know it wasn’t fancy clothes, or cosmetics, or boxes of shoes. Likely dried or canned food stuffs. She also carried a shotgun. One never knew, out in this wilderness, when one might run into a bull camel, who’d have his mind-set on something regarding the rutting season, and no one, least of all a woman, was going to get in his way.
As Robyn was told, “If a bull camel is charging at you, don’t even stop to think about it, or look for a place to hide, just shoot the beast, and the quicker the better.” Yes, at that time, Australia had a feral camel population, numbering into the 10’s of thousands. And you thought the plague was kangaroos.
My thoughts were that the film was beautifully presented. Directed by John Curran who also helmed The Painted Veil, which I reviewed, and working from a screenplay by 1st timer Marion Nelson, the imagery was striking as well as hauntingly beautiful. Yes, the Australian desert aka The Outback is a harsh place, and for any one to venture into it requires a lot of forethought and consideration.
The cinematography was handled by Mandy Walker who also did the lensing of Australia – the Nicole Kidman/Hugh Jackman movie. Indeed, the film is something to see.
As for Wasikowska, whatever hardships she had to endure from spending so much time in the heat and dust in those parched lands, she surely looked as if she had walked all of the 1677 miles herself. The role called for a lot of grit and determination and Wasikowska had it in spades. Driver, as the photographer, was more annoying than anything else.
But that was how the real photographer was supposed to be. Once in a small Aboriginal community, he shot pictures of some traditional worshipping that the women did. And capturing it on camera was forbidden. As such, the Aboriginals withdrew their permission that would allow Robyn to trek across some of their sacred lands.
This was a major gaffe by this dude, and to avoid walking on sacred lands, Robyn had to add 160 extra miles as part of a detour.
But it wasn’t all bad. An Aboriginal elder, a Mr. Eddy, played by Roly Mintuma, accompanied Robyn for a part of the trip. Aboriginal laws forbade women from walking across these lands if not accompanied by a male. This Mr. Eddy also provided some comic relief for the film.
What the film lacked in dramatic tension (after all, we knew it had really happened) was more than balanced by the beautiful cinematography. What ever Wasikowska felt as she portrayed Robyn Davidson, would be sporadically put into words. but was just as often etched into her expressive features.
I’ll recommend the film and rate it at four point zero. Just so you know, just because the lead character is a woman, this film does not easily fit in a category that might be called ‘chick flicks’.
And just because the script has some scenes were Robyn is treated derisively by men, doesn’t mean that this film is a feminist tract with an agenda.
No, I think the film plays equally well, whether you are a male or a female. I believe that Robyn Davidson’s journey was an incredible journey, and should be admired by all.
The truth is that despite the walk being done in 1977, this property is only coming out now as a film – nearly forty years after the fact.
Mostly, this is because Davidson would only sell the rights to the story and her book, to some one who would produce the film in Australia.
By the way, the line that I opened this review with – about Hope, Jokes, and Dogs – is not my creation. It was, at times, all that Robyn Davidson needed to keep her self going. To finish what she had started. Those were her words, and as Wasikowska says them – in that time, in that place, and under those conditions – the impact is felt by all of us, who are just sitting in a movie hall watching the story unfold.
Please check out the trailer:
One thought on “Tracks”
I thought this could have been something great, but I just found it to be…good. Mia certainly gives an incredible performance!