Director: John Curran
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Rainer Bock, Rolley Mintuma, John Flaus, Robert Coleby
MPAA Rating: (for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language)
Running Time: 1:52
Release Date: 9/19/14 (limited); 9/26/14 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 25, 2014
"Because it's there" has been the justification for plenty of dangerous expeditions, and there's some of that rationale to the journey in Tracks. The central reason for Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) to travel the 1,700 miles from central Australia to the west coast of the continent, though, is "because I want to be alone." There are probably safer ways to accomplish this, but they don't become the basis for a National Geographic article, a best-selling book, and, now, a movie.
It's not that the real Davidson set out on her trek for fame or attention. If the movie gets one thing right, it is in convincing us that Davidson, who is still travelling and writing, had little patience or desire for the social norms of human interaction when she decided to cross the Australian desert. "The desire to be alone does not need to be defined or defended," she narrates during the preparation for the journey. It's a noble sentiment in a way. Humans are social beings, but we are also inherently narcissistic. It comes with the territory of the survival instinct (although a trip across a barren wasteland for the sole purpose of doing it kind of flies in the face of that instinct). Also, a person must understand oneself before that person can really become a productive member of society.
The sentiment is nice, but here we are in a discussion about defining and defending the desire to be alone. Perhaps that's because, as portrayed in the movie, Davidson's motive for her journey is as much a bumper-sticker rationale as "Because it's there." It sounds fine and brave on the surface, but it hints at some unspoken drive on the part of the person saying it. While "Because it's there" is something of a conversation-ender, "Because I want to be alone" opens up a new line of questions. The first, of course, is, "Why do you want to be alone?"
Marion Nelson's screenplay can't quite decide if it wants to respect Davidson's assertion that her motive is above scrutiny or if it needs to discover the unspoken drive behind her reasoning. The impulse to find something beneath the surface of this character is understandable. She is, after all, a character who spends most of the movie alone in the desert with only a dog and four camels as companions.
When she is with other people, her wish is to remain silent when confronted with questions. There's a photographer named Rick (Adam Driver) who shows up on behalf of National Geographic to take pictures of Davidson on the trek. She finds him an unrelenting bore—a man who would rather get a pretty shot than strive for authenticity. When he starts prying into her life, she remains mum. When she has sex with him one night, he assumes they have started a romantic relationship. He doesn't understand her and likely never will.
Most of the other people she encounters are tourists and celebrity-seekers who crowd her in increasing numbers to get a few photos of "the Camel Lady," as she comes to be known throughout Australia. They're vultures, seeking any scrap of fame they can find. The only person she grows to genuinely like is an aboriginal man named Mr. Eddie (Rolley Mintuma), and much of that likely comes from the language barrier between the two. She doesn't know what he's saying, and that only emphasizes the purity of his kindness in spirit and action.
Even when Davidson is with others here, she is alone. Most of her time, though, is spent walking with the camels in tow and her faithful dog at her side. Director John Curran and cinematographer Mandy Walker provide the requisite panoramas of the starkly beautiful Outback and, as the hike progresses, a legitimate sense of the perils of nature. The sun beats down on Davidson's pale skin until it's a blistering red. Wild camels approach from the heat-warped horizon (Much of the movie's first act is devoted to explaining how feral camels are far more threatening than we might expect). Her own beasts of burden wander away from her campsite. She loses a piece of equipment or some nostalgic token and becomes lost. A sandstorm shows the difference between Davidson and Rick in what each frantically tries to protect.
These episodes break up what Davidson notes is a repetitive routine of packing her supplies, walking all day, and unloading gear to make camp. There are flashbacks here and there that tell us a bit about Davidson's childhood, particularly the suicide of her mother and the familial instability that resulted. Those scenes suggest an attempt on Nelson's part to explain or perhaps even justify Davidson's personality. That's not in line with the Davidson the movie presents—a person who is silent but unapologetic about who she is.
We can respect the limited evaluation of Davidson, but after spending so much time with her, we crave a bit more, too. At one point, Rick delivers some fan mail to Davidson. People call her a symbol for this or that, yet she is adamant that her trek is for her and her alone. Still, who she is and what this journey means remains a mystery, and as a result, the rationale for telling this story feels like a matter of "Because it's there."
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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