Film Review: Tracks

by Chad Liffmann on September 26, 2014

Life is a journey– make sure you have enough camels.

Mia Wasikowska and camels in John Curran's Tracks.

Mia Wasikowska and camels in John Curran’s Tracks.

Tracks is based on the true story and National Geographic article (and subsequent memoir) of Robyn Davidson, the Australian woman who made a nine month journey on foot across the Australian desert in 1977 — a distance of about 1700 miles.  Throughout her journey, accompanied only by four load-carrying camels and her dog, but occasionally visited by photographer Rick Smolan and aided by a few indigenous folks and country residents, Robyn wrestles with the pressure to remove herself from civilization while fighting to complete her epic journey.  The film is a fantastic re-enactment of Robyn’s story.  The acting, editing, stunning cinematography, music, and all other aspects of the film work harmoniously to deliver a remarkable tale of individual strength and determination, and about humankind’s companionship with nature.

Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) plays Davidson and Adam Driver (Girls) plays Smolan.  Both are young talents doing incredible work on a fairly consistent basis these days.  Here, they transform themselves to become a product of their environment — Smolan, the talkative and outgoing photographer and Davidson, the introspective and strong-willed journey woman.  Wasikowska, in particular, is absolutely remarkable in the role.  Like her strong work in the disappointing Alice in Wonderland, she manages to bring a delicateness to very strong feminine roles.  She can be dazed and unattached in one moment and relentlessly focused in the next moment, able to carry the weight of the world but subject to buckle under the pressure.  Basically, she stays true to a very well-rounded character who is above all else, only human.

Tracks is not only successful due to its technical merits, but also because of its purpose.  It’s one of the strongest films I’ve seen in a while tackling the all too familiar message – Do what you believe in.  Davidson, arguably, doesn’t have the strongest reasons for going on her dangerous journey across the desert.  The other characters in the movie don’t understand her journey’s message, and the key is that there’s nothing to understand.  Smolan seems to be the most in tune to Davidson, mainly because he has a 70s free spirit mentality and just accepts things as they are, for the most part. Tracks isn’t about sending a political message, or about true love, or even about a woman’s determination to beat gender stereotypes, though each of these aspects are present in one form or another.  It’s about an individual’s strong will and earthly values, and the lengths that she goes to in order to be true to herself.  What we choose to take for ourselves from witnessing her actions is a whole different story.  For that reason, it’s a shame that one of Tracks’ movie posters focuses on a romantic shot of Mia sitting with Driver in the desert.  This is a false representation of the movie, the story, and its message and serves only as a marketing ploy to attract filmgoers eager to see romance.  C’est la vie.  

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Tracks opens in Bay Area theaters September 26, 2014.

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