In 1977, an Australian woman set off on a 1,700-mile journey from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia – with four camels and her dog. Some people simply thought she was crazy, others assumed she would be dead almost as soon as her journey began. And why did Robyn Davidson decide to take on such a trek? Why the hell not?!
Davidson was featured in an article for National Geographic and later wrote a full-length novel, Tracks, which went on to be a worldwide bestseller. After the success of the book in 1980, there have been multiple attempts to get a film adaptation off the ground. Actresses Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman are a few that have been linked to the projects over the years. It wasn’t until John Curran was attached to the project that it really gained traction.
This woman was not crazy… well, not entirely crazy. While the film doesn’t go into detail about her motivations, it is clear that she is doing this journey for herself, not to prove anything to anyone else. She appears to crave loneliness – to be out in the wilderness alone. Davidson (as portrayed by Mia Wasikowska) is never completely at ease with others around.
When Davidson set off on her journey, she didn’t have enough funds for the journey. She applied for funding with National Geographic and they obliged, with one condition: that they’re photographer, Rick Smolan (played by GIRLS’ actor Adam Driver), be allowed to photograph her at several stops along her journey.
A long, slow trek across the desert
The film, like Davidson’s journey itself, is a long, slow, epic trek across the Australian outback. This is not a film for people who enjoy action-packed films, but that’s not to say that a lot doesn’t happen. It is the story of a physical journey as well as an emotional one. A woman battling against society’s expectations of her and doing what she wants to do. It is a powerful story and the filmography of the extraordinary scenery is breathtaking. It even made this heat-hater entertain the thought of moving back to sunbaked Australia.
The idea of a harrowing journey slowly breaking down a character is not an original one – and given the origin of this particular tale on true events, it isn’t hard to see why. This young woman was looking for something, although she probably didn’t know what it was when she started out. As these things go, she ended up finding herself. She makes it to the end of her trip and she realizes that she is truly strong enough to do whatever she puts her mind to.
The film clocks in at just under two hours. If you had told me before going in that it was two hours of a woman walking, I’d have laughed in your face and said ‘Sounds worse than The Lord of the Rings.’ And it does sound worse… but somehow it works. The harsh landscape, the hardships she endures… every time a stranger she encounters tells her she can’t do it or she’s crazy, the more you sit their willing her on. You want her to prove them wrong. Despite the lack of dialogue (it is interspersed throughout, in between long sequences with little, unless you count Robyn talking to her animals), it held my attention throughout.
A fantastic female character
It must be strange to have yourself represented on screen – with viewers referring to your representation as a ‘character’. But, as with all stories ‘based on true events’, we can never really know how much is fabricated or where the truth really lies. What I loved about her is her disdain for others. That might sound a little odd (or not so much if you know me personally), but I’m not a great people lover. I completely understand the desire to be alone, away from the gaze of the ‘other’. I just got the character of Robyn Davidson in this film.
Her contrary nature, wanting to prove everyone wrong, definitely appealed to me. When she reached ‘the last white fella’ for miles, Davidson says to him, ‘It’s hard to explain that I just want perfectly nice people to shut up and die.’ Maybe you find that harsh, but I completely understood it. Sometimes even the nicest people in the world rub you the wrong way – or maybe they just catch you at a bad time – but how do you tell people to just leave you alone without coming off as the biggest bitch this side of Maleficent?
Mia Wasikowska gives an excellent performance. For such a small, delicate looking girl, the intensity that she portrays is almost incredible. Whoever was on make-up ought to be commended as well. The transformation through the film is spot-on – the dirt, grime, greasy hair, sunburn, chapped lips, and tan. By the end of the film I felt like I was experiencing the journey with her. A moment towards the end of the film (you’ll know it when you see it), Robyn finally breaks down – as did I. I’m not ashamed to say that I bawled like a baby. This level of emotional reaction from me is impressive, so props to Wasikowska for bringing me so close to her character.
I defy anyone to film in Australia, heavily featuring the landscape, and not make a beautiful film. Even Baz’s monstrosity Australia was beautiful to look at (as was Hugh Jackman, just saying). Anyone who can conquer this landscape on their own, deserves your attention for two hours.
Verdict: Moving and epic, this is a film that leaves you feeling like you’ve done your own journey. It isn’t fast-paced or action-packed, so probably not a film that will warrant many re-watches, but definitely worth seeing.