Published Sep 04, 2013Though Tracks has the framework of an incredible journey tale, one where an underdog overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles, learning an aspect of the self and proving something to the world, a voiceover from the protagonist, Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), complicates and shifts the implicit themes.
Davidson (a writer that crossed nearly 3,200 kilometers of Australian desert with four camels and a dog in the late '70s) cites the desire for isolation and the need to stick to something with a clear goal after years of slapdash attempts at different jobs and degrees.
John Curran (an underrated director with a penchant for detailing, quite acutely, socially contrary thought and hypocrisy, demystifying romantic and judicial ideals with works like The Painted Veil and Stone) understands this character in a way most wouldn't. While detailing her early attempts to obtain and train feral camels — creatures not native to the region, left to die by British settlers after technology rendered them useless — working for various ranchers and farmers, her friendly disposition is tempered by a quiet disinterest in the facile nature of most people.
Her distain for the perpetual self-congratulating mewing of the masses, endlessly looking for validation and moral reassurances, is eventually contextualized by a childhood of forced maturation, having loss and adult disappointments thrust upon her at a developmental stage. But, contrary to the bland, socially reiterative morality of most cinema, her lack of interest in standard social performance isn't vilified or treated to a patronizing narrative of ideological shift.
Robyn's trip through the desert does work as a metaphor for learning how to live in a society where the inevitability of dealing, and working, with others is necessary, however. Needing funding for her trip, she reaches out to National Geographic, a publication that's happy to finance her dangerous trek, with the condition that she allows a photographer (Adam Driver) to accompany her at intervals along the way.
Curran, knowing the demands of a broader audience, does exploit this disconnect: Rick (Driver) is eager and chatty, wanting Robyn to like him, while she just wants him to bugger off. It adds some levity to the early part of her trek, which gives a wider appeal to the text, but fortunately doesn't alienate or distort the central, ostensibly impossible internal quest to escape from social expectations. As she points out somewhere around the midway point of her journey, talking to a man living in a trailer in the middle of the desert, "It's hard to explain that I just want perfectly nice people to shut up and die."
Here, the reaffirming lesson and simultaneous disappointment are that even though most people — represented by tourists and city folk chasing her down with cameras, invading her privacy even when she makes it clear she wants to be alone — are slack-jawed idiots parroting the status quo, a handful of people on the periphery of society genuinely mean well. Robyn, though determined to be self-sufficient, only has fleeting moments of peace, running into complications when her camels wander off or aboriginal laws dictate that she cannot cross certain territories unaccompanied by a male. What happens, as her journey reaches its final stretch is that she's only able to achieve the quiet and ease she desires when others — chiefly, a respected aboriginal elder and the understanding, albeit sweetly simple Rick — help.
It's a bittersweet journey, one that works for the "perfectly nice" people that Robyn despises, reassuring them with a faux-romance and minor comic element to relieve tensions, without being condescending to those that identify with Robyn, understanding that it's all about compromise and finding the fleeting in-betweens that make the ridiculousness of everything vaguely tolerable.