Tracks (2013), The Painted Veil director John Curran’s award-winning outback drama starring Mia Wasikowska (Lawless, Stoker), tells the true story of Robyn Davidson, a young woman who in 1977 trekked across almost 2000 miles of treacherous Australian desert with only four temperamental camels and her loyal dog for company. Adapted from Davidson’s bestselling book, Marion Nelson’s screen adaptation opens with Robyn attempting to find work training feral camels. Her plan is to earn her own dromedaries for the trip. She also needs to be financed and this comes in the form of a deal with National Geographic Magazine who agree to fund Davidson’s trek in return for exclusive pictures.
These photos are taken by American Rick Smolan (Adam Driver, star of HBO series Girls and soon to be seen in Star Wars: Episode VII), who meets Robyn at various stages of her journey and manages to irritate and comfort her in equal measure. Robyn’s mammoth, nine-month journey takes her from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. She encounters various obstacles including dehydration, sunstroke, a dust storm, loneliness and the near loss of her camels. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn of her tragic past- the death of her mother at an early age and Robyn’s ambivalent relationship with her father who was also an adventurer. Asked about her reasons for the trek Robyn claims “I just want to be by myself.” She is clearly wary of close human relationships and prefers the company of her dog Diggity.
Tracks is a rite of passage of sorts as Robyn comes to terms with bereavement and discovers that she needs human companionship and the support of others as well as having to draw on her own inner strengths. Rick proves surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful, depositing vital water canisters along her route, and offering her encouragement when she becomes overwhelmed by doubt. Driver and Wasikowska work exceptionally well together on screen. The aborigines Robyn meets also prove kind and helpful. There’s a wonderful encounter with one, Mr. Eddy (Rolley Mintuma), who accompanies her part of the way across sacred ground and scares off some overly inquisitive tourists. Mandy Walker’s cinematography perfectly captures the parched terrain and heat haze of a desolate landscape. Her framing of massive expanses of red earth is contrasted with close-ups of Robyn’s blistered, sun-burnt face while the aerial shots of the scorched environment serve to accentuate her isolation, the hazardous nature and scale of her admirable endeavour.
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