Tracks is a fascinating adventure story based on the remarkable real-life experience of Robyn Davidson. It opens today in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. (Check your local listings in those cities.)
On April 9, 1977, Ms. Davisdson set off from Alice Springs in Central Australia with her dog Diggity and four camels on a 1,700 mile journey westward to the Indian Ocean. Periodically Rick Smolan, a photographer working for National Geographic (which helped to underwrite the cost of the journey) would meet up with her and take photographs. Ms. Davidson provided the captions and text that accompanied Smolan's pictures when they ran in the magazine. Later she expanded her writings into a book, Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, that became a bestseller.
Mia Wasikowska portrays Ms. Davidson in the film and also provides voice-over narration at times. For her journey, she had to learn how to break and train the feral camels she would need to carry her supplies. Interestingly, camels were not native to Australia, but were imported because of their suitability to the hot, arid climate. When motor vehicles supplanted them for transportation purposes, they were set free with the expectation that they would die out. Instead they thrived and Australia came to have the largest feral camel population in the world.
In the film, she meets Smolan (Adam Driver) when he comes with her sister and some friends to visit her prior to her departure. When he hears of her financial problems in bankrolling the trek, he suggests National Geographic as a potential source of funding and offers to contact them on her behalf. Determined to do things on her own and on her own terms, she declines his offer to serve as an intermediary and announces that she will contact the magazine on her own.
The journey takes between six and seven months, during which her animals are her only company. For part of the journey she does travel with a Mr. Eddy (Rolley Mintuma), one of the most highly respected Aborigine elders. This enables her to go through sacred Aboriginal sites, which are off limits to unaccompanied women. Otherwise she would have had to take a long and time-consuming detour.
The trip takes her through visually breathtaking areas, but it is also fraught with danger. She has only an old compass given to her by her deceased father to keep her on track; at this time there was no GPS to instantaneously let her know exactly where she was. On at least two occasions mishaps placed her very life in jeopardy.
The story of her journey is periodically broken with flashbacks which provide insight into her past: the loss of a beloved parent and of her childhood home, and so forth.
Ms. Wasikowski clearly was well-trained in how to work with the camels. Perhaps doubles were used at times, but for the most part it is clear that it was she who was interacting with them.
The role is not a glamorous one. At times she is covered with dust and dirt, her hair unkempt. Her bare shoulders are made to look sunburnt and in one brief shot, a bushy, unshaved armpit is evident. For the most part, it is a quiet role, but I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't receive some consideration for a Best Performance by an Actress nomination, especially considering the Weinstein's considerable success backing their actresses (Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago, and Renée Zellweger in Cold Mountain both won Oscars for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.)
Oh, also be sure to stick around during the end credits, which are accompanied by pictures of Ms. Davidson taken by Smolan during the actual journey. They reveal how closely at least some of the scenes in the film reproduced the real events upon which they were based, as well as Ms. Wasikowska's likeness to the subject she portrays.
AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended.
Note that Tracks is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). There are some scenes regarding the death and killing of animals that truly are too explicit for younger viewers.