When I first decided to see Tracks, I was hoping that it would meet the rave reviews for just one aspect: cinematography. I had heard that the frames scanning the desert are breathtaking, with the animals and people appearing so small against this vast expanse. You see I was craving a film that would have the same impact on me as La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty). That Italian-made film is, by far, the most breathtaking film I’ve watched—or at least that I remember. There is a quiet beauty, and a quiet brilliance to it. While there are moments when Tracks is attractive, and 70% of it being shot in the desert, you’d think there would be a simple beauty to it. Unfortunately, Tracks fell short of filling this hole.
Tracks is based on the best-selling book of the same name, which details the story of a young Australian woman, Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), who decided to take on a very challenging path to self-discovery through 1,700 miles of desert and Australian outback. Beginning her journey in Palm Springs, then moving on to work at a camel farm before starting her journey west to the ocean, everyone she comes across thinks she’s crazy but her determination seemed to always win them over—supporting her even if they didn’t believe she could do it. Eventually, she sets out with four camels and her dog, unaware of what really lies ahead but knowing that she didn’t take the easy path to self-discovery.
Without reading the novel and really getting a sense of who the real Robyn Davidson was at the time of her journey, I can’t say with authority which parts are true to Robyn’s real account and which parts utilized a little more artistic license. In an interview, Robyn noted that the film followed the book fairly closely and that, with only three days together, Mia was able to get her—and not just her certain mannerisms, but her approach and mindset going into her journey across the desert overall.
In the film, Robyn (Wasikowska) is a strong feminine figure, determined to prove to herself that she can face whatever challenges are ahead and do anything she puts her mind to. You have to admire her for having such strong convictions, but sometimes, she rubs me the wrong way. She can be rather abrasive, but throughout the film I had to keep reminding myself that this was a journey she intended to do alone, and when the rest of Australia—and most of the rest of the world—found out what she was looking to accomplish, they started to horn in on it. So understandably, she’d hold some resentment toward the photographer from National Geographic, who had been sent to photograph her three times throughout her journey as part of their terms for sponsoring her trip (a move she reluctantly made after struggling for quite some time to make enough money to finally begin her trip). But really, it doesn’t matter if I liked her character; the point is that Wasikowska’s acting appeared to be perfection, especially considering she only spent three days hanging out (not shadowing) Davidson prior to her role.
But in the end, while the story is interesting, it’s difficult to keep it compelling.
Reading about someone’s first-hand experience in a book can be a whole other experience; they’re narrating every moment, every look, every emotion. Yet in the film we see it all, and I think that’s where the story loses some of its interest. It’s a worthwhile story to put to film, but I think it’s one I’d rather experience on paper—which just means there’s another book to add to the reading pile.