‘I think you have a problem with people,” Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) informs Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) in the middle of the desert. The utterance comes midway through Tracks, John Curran’s true-story narrative of Davidson’s 1,700-mile 1977 trek across Australia. As Davidson engages more with her animals (four camels, one dog) than any human, viewers might be inclined to agree.
Yet the film’s strength derives from how Wasikowska makes Davidson’s seemingly suicidal wanderlust relatable. Here is a woman who wants something even more rare in 2014’s world of perpetual connections than in ’77: privacy! Trekking without means of communication, Davidson’s journey genuinely seems to be after that all-too-often-mocked goal of finding oneself.
Her desire for solitude is satisfied until it isn’t; to finance the trip Davidson has to acquiesce to the publication’s demand that a photographer intermittently document her progress. That’s where Smolan comes in: His snaps of the sun-weathered isolate make Robyn a celebrity, and her search for solitude is eventually interrupted by photo-seeking tourists overjoyed to find the famous “camel lady.”
All this might make Tracks sound heavier on narrative than it is — the film is primarily a striking sensory relation of the sounds, smells, and feel of dragging oneself through an endless stretch of terrain not designed for human comfort.
It’s to the filmmakers’ credit that the desert, by the film’s close, manages to come across as a site of both horror and bliss.