I read the book Tracks by Robyn Davidson last year and was immediately captured by a determined young woman who not only completed an arduous journey, but was able to articulate her observations and struggles so effectively.
I felt like I had known this woman as a friend. A friend who leaves the known world of a reliable job, stable accommodation and family and runs as far away as possible.
But now we have a feature film to further enhance this true tale.
Tracks became a best selling book when it was published in 1980. It has never been out of print since then. The book is a well-written memoir about a kind of pilgrimage made by a young woman on the seemingly insane project of walking 2700 kilometres. Not just any 2,700 kilometres, but through vastly inhospitable territory. From Alice Springs to the West Coast of Western Australia. With a team of camels as pack animals and her beloved dog Diggity by her side. Her animals are always portrayed as her true friends.
This is an emotional journey, which shows the fragility of a woman who appears lost within herself. She flees to a place that is largely unpopulated and further to a dilapidated old ruin way out of the township of Alice Springs. Seeking solace that eludes her. The film tracks her setting up the plan of a long walk that even the indigenous people who know the country well are askance about.
The book was a stand out memoir, which uncovered issues of racism, connection to country, the Australian identity and the lore of the outback.
On this journey Robyn played by Mia Wasikowska embodies the role of a restless sole. Her beauty belies toughness in spirit. She is joined on her journey at intervals by an American photographer from the National Geographic Magazine Rick Smolan played by Adam Driver. A polar opposite personality who gets under her skin gradually or is it the other way round?
This awkward relationship mimics Robyn's aversion to people in general. At one point Robyn states 'I am so alone'. To which Rick retorts 'Aren't we all'.
The film depicts the harsh arid soils of the outback via cinematographer Mandy Walker's realistic photography. To any visitor to the heart of Australia the scenes are instantly familiar, the colours of the great interior Desert lands.
The film waters down the racism that is raw in the book. This was Alice Springs in the mid 1970's. It also steers away from the vivid accounts of cruelty meted out by Karl the camel farmer who Robyn serves her initial apprenticeship with. Perhaps these were considered incidental to the plot, but never-the-less one wonders why these issues were downplayed.
The film really comes alive in the encounters with the hotchpotchof outback characters. These people show the real charm of isolated Australians fighting against the odds in a harsh and unforgiving country. The indigenous people and old codgers particularly shine with their droll and dry humour.
The narrative is not populated with sentimentality or flashy effects. It quietly draws the viewer along its episodic path. Through panic, pain and loss we walk on through a slice of rarely seen Australia. Friends until journey's end.