“Words are overrated” agrees one lonely wanderer to another in the meditative, sandy drama “Tracks.” The true story of Robyn Davidson, a young Australian woman who journeyed across thousands of miles of desert alone on foot, with a couple of camels, the film, like the journey itself, is slow and sometimes tough going, but with a tremendous payoff. A few more words might have stood this story in good stead, but what is on the screen is amazing.
Mia Wasikowska plays Robyn, a taciturn young lady who really, really wants to be left alone. While plenty can be read into her determination to make the difficult trek, especially as a young female in the 1970s, she resists giving a reason for her trip and despises the publicity that eventually accompanies it. Adam Driver plays a friendly photographer who suggests she could get her trip paid for by National Geographic in return for her story and photographs, and although she resists the idea, she eventually expands her immensely popular article into a best-selling book.
Throughout the film, those who meet the “camel lady,” and the viewer, cannot help but ask “why?” Why on earth is this poor cranky girl trudging so far? In tiny bits, we gradually get insight into the young woman’s life, and the pain she’s experienced. Although Robyn insists there is nothing wrong with her, ultimately traumas are revealed shedding light on her bitter disappointment with life, and with people, specifically. She is, at least in some way, trying to get over her mother’s untimely death in tragic circumstances. It’s like “Wild” but with camels. So many camels.
Her preference is for the company of animals. However, the film is most interesting when Robyn does have some people to interact with. Late in her journey, she spends the night with a friendly and nurturing old couple. I saw in them the family she might have had if her mother had lived, and found the interaction between Robyn, who is practically feral by then, and the couple incredibly moving.
In the spirit of the “less is more” concept, perhaps it’s the deprivation of dialogue that adds so much weight to the few words spoken. All the performers do a tremendous amount with a handful of words, like conserving precious drops of water in the desert. Driver, in particular, makes a big impact with his few scraps of screen time, and creates an entire character out of a few minutes.
While the film felt like a dreary trudge at times, the overall impression of “Tracks” is powerful, even if the payoff is a long time coming and many camel close-ups must be endured.
“Tracks” is currently available to rent, and to stream on Hoopla, a free service from the Mobile Public Library.