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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Queen of the Desert

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday July 24, 06:08 pm
An introvert discovers herself in the Aussie outback


It’s a testament to the brilliance of Tracks that it’s one of those rare films I’ve watched twice in a year. Not only does it stand the additional scrutiny (unlike The Grand Budapest Hotel, which becomes trying), it also packs a serious emotional punch that works on repeated viewings.

To quote Flight of the Conchords: “I’m not crying. It’s just been raining on my face.”

This outstanding adaptation of Robyn Davidson’s real-life odyssey across the Australian Outback in 1977 is both simple and profound. Pushed by a troubled upbringing and a desire to experience the world hands-on, Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) sets out to walk across western Australia. The trip involves crossing 1,700 miles of the most inhospitable land in the country, a tough endeavour even for hardened locals.

Armed with four camels and a dog, the delicate Davidson is resourceful enough to tackle the task at hand, but her determination often morphs into stubbornness, and unnecessarily complicates the already difficult task by pushing others away.

Her biggest supporter is Rick (Adam Driver, Girls), an outgoing National Geographic photographer smitten with Robyn, in spite of her surliness. The two circle each other for the length of the journey: there is sex involved, but their relationship can hardly be considered romantic. He represents everything Robyn despises — notoriety, shallowness, other people — but she must put up with his sporadic visits since the magazine is footing the bill. At times, Rick is baffled by this recluse of wide open spaces, but on most occasions he’s just fascinated by her.

Credit must be given to a wonderful Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre). One of the strongest actresses of her generation (she’s only 25), Wasikowska skillfully plays Robyn as a resolute introvert without shutting the audience out. In many ways, Tracks resembles The Rover, minus the violent overtones (or R-Patz): both feature single-minded loners in a difficult journey across Flinders Ranges. While Guy Pearce is stoic and immovable, Wasikowska assimilates her surroundings and presses forward. It’s a beautiful performance to watch.

Davidson’s grim background is not used as misery-porn, but makes her a more rounded character. A relatable tragedy makes clear why Robyn has trouble forming attachments, without having to spell it out.

Director John Curran (The Painted Veil) does a great job grounding a notion as abstract as the transformative power of travelling, without using the customary clichés (Tracks is the anti-Under the Tuscan Sun). And it doesn’t hurt that the lush cinematography makes the barren outback look positively dreamlike. Curran also uses the aboriginal population effectively, steering clear of the patronizing often seen in these cinematic circumstances.

In the end, Tracks celebrates introverts, seldom an ideal subject for a movie. The film validates Robyn’s way of life: there’s nothing wrong with being selective and waiting for others to prove their worth. Pretty counterintuitive, but true.

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