TIFF 2013: TRACKS Review

     September 13, 2013


Tracks begins a quote from Robyn Davidson (played in the film adaptation by Mia Wasikowska) saying that most nomads feel at home everywhere, but she was a nomad because she felt at home nowhere.  There’s a romanticism and nobility in solitude, but director John Curran can’t capture it in his adaptation of Davidson’s memoir about her lonely trek across Australia.  Her extraordinary journey is mostly uneventful, and events are what define journeys.  Otherwise it’s just distance.  The movie desperately tries to look at her travel from every physical angle, but from an emotional standpoint, we’re left to wonder why a total loner would bother sharing her story with us in the first place.

In 1975, Robyn Davidson launches a plan to walk from Alice Springs in Central Australia all the way to the Indian Ocean, a distance of approximately 1,700 miles.  After spending two years learning how to ride and train camels, Davidson officially sets out on her journey on April 9, 1977 with the sponsorship of National Geographic.  The sponsorship requires that she meets up with photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) periodically, and she does so with great reluctance.  Davidson feels ill at ease among other people, and is at peace when walking with her dog Diggity and her four camels.  Along the way, she has a mostly unremarkable walk, and uses the few people she meets as resources.


The film effectively conveys why Davidson doesn’t want to be around others, but her need for solitude seems incongruous with a movie that asks us to spend about two hours with her.  A journey she wants (at least initially) to be private now has us gawking at her trudge through hundreds of miles of open desert.  When we see her early in the film, she begrudgingly works for others so she can get her camels, but the most telling scene is the social anxiety she experiences when surrounded by her friend and friends of her friend.  Their incessant chatting makes Davidson feel even more alone, and we can sympathize with her need to get away.

However, Davidson has nowhere substantial to go.  It’s an internal journey and one rarely touched by external forces.  It rarely feels like she’s even communing with nature.  The only way to go is forward, and that’s not a journey.  That’s a direction.  Her few interactions with other people lack any depth.  Rick mostly annoys her, and Mr. Eddie (Roly Mintuma), her temporary guide through sacred ground, is a nice companion.  She shares nothing of herself with these people, and so again, we’re left to wonder why she would share it with us.


If we get anything substantial from Tracks, it’s the gorgeous landscape.  Davidson occasionally soaks it in, and at other times combats it, but cinematographer Mandy Walker and editor Alexandre de Franceschi deserve some kind of special award for trying to find about 800 different ways to present what is essentially the same scene.  They use long shots, wide shots, dissolves, close-ups, bird’s-eye-views, and more.  The presentation doesn’t provide much emphasis on the drama, but there’s not much to emphasize.  At least they bring some variety to a monotonous trip.

Tracks attempts to put us in Davidson’s tattered walking shoes, but she’s a reserved figure who believes she can do something extraordinary, and doesn’t need anyone watching to prove it.  I’m surprised she eventually decided to write about her experiences because nothing we see in the movie provides an impetus to start opening up.  Not every extraordinary human experience needs to become a story if it’s not in the storyteller’s character.  There’s nothing wrong with a person wanting to keep a personal accomplishment private.  It becomes wrong when you present that personal journey, and fail to make it little more than tiresome stroll.

Rating: C-

For all of our TIFF 2013 coverage, click here.  Here are links to all of my TIFF 2013 reviews:

Latest News