It’s hard to say what inspired Robyn Davidson to embark on a 2700-kilometre journey across desert, unqualified and perhaps unsuspecting of exactly what she was embarking on. I haven’t read her book, Tracks, so I can’t vouch for what she might have said retrospectively about her quite remarkable journey, but from this film, those reasons are still very much elusive.
John Curran‘s film doesn’t make many assertions as to what drove her. He merely suggests. And this seems an appropriate way to go when the title character in this story is naturally cagey on her prospects. ‘Why not?’ is perhaps one of the most spelled-out explanations and any other event that occurred in her turbulent upbringing — referenced in recurring flashbacks — is neither cancelled out nor confirmed as being a sole factor.
After a while, you just get the feeling it wasn’t one thing but a gradual building urge to get out of a life she was utterly fed up with. In this sense, her animal companions on the trip — consisting of four camels and her dog, devoid of all petty emotions and hang-ups — were the perfect company.
It would be a daunting task for Mia Wasikowska playing this role, being on screen the whole movie with her camels and it could have been a challenging story to get right, with lapsing into monotony a clear danger. However, Marion Nelson‘s screenplay manages to keep things interesting without over-dramatising: making good use of Davidson’s intermittent but quietly profound narration; giving weight to the supporting cast and Robyn’s subsequent relationships with them; and gently putting together the pieces of her fluctuating mental state. Through all of this, Wasikowska cements her place as one of Australia brightest young talents with a natural and almost effortless presence, while Adam Driver is great as Ben Smolan, the slightly awkward National Geographic photographer who documented her journey.
And you could talk about Mandy Walker’s cinematography until the cows come home — it is sublime to look at — but I think even she would agree that in some of the trekking scenes, the landscape needs little help being utterly captivating.
Ultimately, what drives this is a quiet determination, despite her obvious vulnerability, that seems to have resonated with many over the years. Her down-to-earth character and respect for the lives of those she encountered along the way, both indigenous and non-indigenous, are also endearing and admirable.
In many senses, it isn’t our journey to take, given its personal motivation, and we can only but observe and take out of it what we will. If nothing else, it provides another interpretation of what is on offer beyond the urban fringe.
Tracks will be out in selected cinemas from March 6 through Transmission Films.