Words by Declan Mulcahy
Locally-produced films have a tendency to enforce a sense of ‘Australianness’ upon itself. Whether it stems from the want to create a recognisable brand of national cinema or simply an intense patriotism on the part of the filmmaker, more often than not it results in a shallow and cringe-inducing film.
With this cinematic epidemic so widespread it’s incredibly refreshing to find a film as honest as John Curran’s Tracks.
Based on the memoir of Robyn Davidson, Tracks captures the young Queenslander’s 1977 trek across the expansive desert of Western Australia, heading west from Alice Springs with the Indian Ocean as her intended destination. Robyn, played by Mia Wasikowska, sets off on her journey with four camels and her faithful dog, occasionally being pestered by Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), a photographer sent by National Geographic.
At the heart of this film is Wasikowska’s performance as the young explorer, presenting Robyn not as an empowered and noble adventurer but instead as a determined but very human woman with her fair share of flaws. American director Curran contributes to the honesty of his lead actor’s performance by keeping the action of the story pared-down, taking a realistic rather than dramatic approach to events such as Robyn’s various encounters with wild camels and Aboriginal elders.
While the film has its occasional lapses into Hollywood romanticism—namely gratuitous backstory flashbacks and an occasionally poignant piano score—the director and crew generally avoid fetishising the Australian elements of the story. Instead, the picturesque outback and its remarkable inhabitants form a backdrop for what is ultimately a character study revolving around the adverse themes of isolation and companionship.