Everyone deals with grief in their own way. Whereas some of us take a box of donuts into the corner of a dark room, Robyn Davison (Mia Wasikowska) decided to walk 2000 miles through the Australian desert. (Come on, they aren't THAT different.)
John Curran's Tracks, about this mid 1970s true story which turned Davison into something of a modern day folk hero is, frankly, a frustrating film. There are moments that really come together nicely, and then there are other moments that makes it seem as if this movie was assembled with the bluntness of steel hammers.
First, the positive. It looks great - as any film set in some far-flung place must. The emotion of the final third sneaks up on you, but the movie is mature enough not to suggest that accomplishing this admittedly dopey self-assigned task will magically and instantly cure all of Robyn's problems. Also, and this is rare for a biopic, it tempers the typical lionizing (because, let's face it, this woman in impressive) with a jaundiced eye toward her mental stability.
It's not held up like a cool trait, like a tortured artist who succumbs to drink. It suggests that Davison was something of a bit of a freak with the way she interacts with people. While she knows that she can't sustain herself on the trip without a sponsor, she gets inconsolable when she has to lower herself for press. She's also quick to go ballistic, flipping out when people want to gawk at her and her camels.
Her main contact during the expedition is Adam Driver, a National Geographic photographer who meets up with her at certain checkpoints. He is, as she puts it, a "nice person" - the type of person Davison wishes would disappear because she doesn't know how to deal with them. Her cries of "I just want to be left alone" are heartbreaking, but, considering that, hey, few people managed to ever achieve this measure of solitude, you can't help but find her a tad coo-coo.
The film's big problem is the reliance on voice over and really sappy music. I haven't seen any of director John Curran's other work, but after the heavy-handed choices in this film, I'm hardly lining up.
As Davison crosses the Outback, she realizes she will have to walk through an Aboriginal holy place. Women are not allowed unaccompanied, and while one of the overall goals of this movie is to be respectful of indigenous beliefs, this led to a liberal's paradox. Do we respect other peoples' beliefs when that means keeping 50% of the population as second class citizens? I leave it to you whether or not this plot point is worth getting upset over.
But even with the lousy music, the bulk of Tracks is meant to be a hypnotic trip in a photogenic environment. There are more than a few glorious moments, but a quick look at some nude swimming helped me realize that this movie is like the anti-Walkabout.
In Nicolas Roeg's film the young woman is thrust into the Outback because of circumstances beyond her control. Here she volunteers. In Walkabout Jenny Agutter meets an Aboriginal on the cusp of adulthood. Here, Mia Wasikowska travels (part of the way) with an old man.
Her other traveling companions - some might even call them the real stars - are four camels and a dog. Indeed, throughout Australia and the world, Davison was known as "the camel lady." Animal lovers will flip for some sequences.
I definitely recommend Tracks but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping for more. It definitely baked into my skin more that I thought it did at the time, and Wasikowska puts in a great performance, but I can't help but wonder if this whole movie would have been more effective on mute.