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Transcendent ordeal of an outback pilgrim


Tracks (M). Director: John Curran. Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Roly Mintuma. 113 minutes

I had my 'perfect Kimberley moment' on the last day of my trip. After a few days at Broome, a sojourn at the idyllic headlands of Cape Leveque, and an inland bus tour to the immense, nuggety Purnululu, I landed on the white sand in the gullet of Windjana Gorge. The place is infested by crocs, freshies who are harmless to wary humans yet fearsome as they bob ubiquitously in the crystal lagoon or warm their razor teeth in the sun. I crouched beside one slate-coloured beast who lay at full stretch parallel to the shore, rapt by its ragged beauty.

This was not the first gorge I'd visited, nor the most awesome (that honour goes to the massive sandstone cleft of Cathedral Gorge at Purnululu). But surrounded by limestone cliffs and staring that croc in the eye, I glanced up to find myself tangibly alone. The babble of fellow tourists had escaped the heat of the gorge to the shade of the distant picnic area. My private outback universe grew so still that I could hear the water murmur and the shift of sand beneath my soles. It was surely the kind of moment that people probe the desert to discover.

Robyn Davidson's trek in 1978, 2700km overland from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, is the stuff of legend. In the new film adapted from her memoir, Tracks, Robyn (Wasikowska) appears as an enigma, the motivations behind her odyssey oblique at best. Yet it is hard to miss her resentment towards friends who add noise to her final preparations, and towards the National Geographic photographer Rick (Driver) who intrudes intermittently on her trek in return for sponsorship from the magazine. Solitude, clearly, is largely the point.

As a meditation on the mythical 'outback experience' Tracks is sublime. By mythical I don't mean 'inauthentic'. Anyone who has had moments like my 'perfect Kimberley moment' will feel the mystical dimensions of Robyn's journey. Watch this film on the big screen and absorb cinematographer Mandy Walker's rendering of vast, claustrophobic space; of yellow sand and grey-green scrub and white-hot sun; of the degradation of Robyn's own skin by the elements as she traverses that sparse, living landscape. Cinematically, Tracks is stunning.

For the most part, Robyn is accompanied only by a team of camels, and a dog who plays a key role in Robyn's emotional arc. Robyn's interactions with the tame animals are easy and natural; likewise, with an Aboriginal elder, Eddie (Mintuma), who by necessity becomes her guide for part of the journey. By contrast, among her friends at the start of the film, and during her grudging friendship and sort-of romance (biographically accurate but unconvincing) with the intrusive Rick, she appears almost alien. Little wonder the outback calls to her.

Robyn's physical ordeal takes her also to the jagged ends of her emotional and mental being. She is pestered by tourists, for whom 'the camel lady' is already a living legend, and by paparazzi, who assail her at her most frayed. Rick proves to be an ally at such times, testing her determination to go it alone, without undermining it. Although the film's pensive tone tends towards aloofness, Wasikowska is captivating, her intense quietness capturing the spiritual dimensions of a personal endeavour that transcends ordinary human limitations.

Tim Kroenert head shotTim Kroenert is the assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Tracks, John Curran, Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver



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Existing comments

What a seductive review! I will definitely see this movie now. I read the book when it was first released, and while I liked it very much, I couldn't see a film in it (2 1/2 hours of desert?) but Tim's thoughtful response to this film has changed my mind.

Donna Mc | 06 March 2014  

You've convinced me Tim! You set the scene so well with that moving description of your own experience and showed the nature of Robyn's quest. The mythical dimensions depicted and the emotional struggles she faced imply a pilgrimage which might inform us a little of the experience. Thank you for the anticipation.

Anne | 06 March 2014  

I have seen the film prior to leaving on my own odessey. I agree with the spiritual aspect of these internal journeys. At 73 I am ready for what the Hindus say is the 3rd stage of life "Time for God" if you wish to share my journey see the blog Ozsoulwalk.com. Mike Pauly

Mike Pauly | 13 March 2014  

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