2014, PG-13, 112 min. Directed by John Curran. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Rolly Mintuma.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 3, 2014
The movie about Robyn Davidson’s mid-Seventies trek across the Australian desert one-ups the old cigarette pitch, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.” Davidson walks 1,700 miles with four camels – with nothing nearly as satisfying as a hit of nicotine at the end of her journey.
Tracks is based on Davidson’s book about her experience, as well as the tantalizingly photographed National Geographic feature which underwrote the trip and first brought her story to a wider audience. Mia Wasikowska stars as Davidson and gives a totally committed performance that makes you aware, in equal measures, of the character’s wispiness yet flintiness. The sun-baked desert, the parched lips and vulnerability of the flesh, the spectacular horizons, and the ever-watchable camels are all irresistibly photographed (by cinematographer Mandy Walker). However, if you come to the movie expecting Davidson to share her reasons for the journey or what she’s learned along the way, you’ll come away disappointed. As Davidson states during one of her perpetual voiceovers, the terse answer she gives to people who ask why she undertook her mad odyssey is “Why not?”
With self-discovery – or any other goal – off the itinerary, the movie trudges forward, with little to keep us engaged other than the scenery, Davidson’s occasional flashbacks to vague emotional scars created during her childhood, and her immense love for her animals, which include her dog Diggity, who accompanies her through the desert, and her four pack camels. She’s a prickly individual who has no acknowledged desire for human companionship, so even the rare visits from friends and family prior to the start of her journey come as undesired interruptions. The National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan (Driver) who drops in several times during her trip to document her feat and bring her unrequested supplies and water canteens has also learned to keep his distance from the loner, even though his presence threatens to lend a romance angle to the story. The Aboriginal people she encounters along the way also seem to strike Davidson as inevitable but undesired impediments to her exercise of free will.
To my mind, movies about watching nomads walk rank alongside movies about writers writing: The action is dull and endlessly repetitive, and most of the interesting stuff occurs in the mind’s interior. Davidson shares little about her reasons or objectives, and thus leaves viewers free to read into the character whatever one chooses – a feminist icon, a mystical seeker, an animal lover ill at ease in the world of human intercourse, another Australian gone on a walkabout. Whatever one chooses, the story promises to be more interesting than the bare bones presented onscreen.