Posted on September 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Profanity: Some strong language, one F-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Animals and humans in peril, sad animal death, references to suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 26, 2014

tracks-movie-posterIn 1977, a 27-year-old woman named Robyn Davidson took a dog and four camels and walked 1700 miles across the Australian desert. A National Geographic photographer met up with her four times to cover it for the magazine. That led to a book, the international best-seller Tracks.  And now it is a film, starring Mia Wasikowska, with Adam Driver as photographer Rick Smolan, and directed by John Curran, whose previous films (“The Painted Veil,” “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”) show a gift for letting the environment be an essential part of the story-telling.  The result is a journey set in surroundings of punishing conditions but spectacular beauty that manages to be meditative and internal, and all the more illuminating for it.

This is the first of two movies based on soul-restoring real-life hikes taken by real-life women that we will be seeing this fall, both based on best-selling books, with Reese Witherspoon’s more high-profile “Wild” coming out December 5, 2014.  While there are flashbacks to suggest that Davidson took on the trip to deal with some family losses, in real life Davidson has not just refused to give a reason; she has insisted that it is a foolish question to ask.  She walked across Australia for the same reason that Mallory climbed Mount Everest.  “Because it’s there.”  Her version of a response: “Why not?”  It’s pretty clear why not.  It is very dangerous.  The terrain is blisteringly hot and with very little water.  If she is injured or lost, no one will be there to help her.  But she is determined to go, indenturing herself with camel dealers to learn how to train camels and earn some to take with her.  When the first one cheats her out of what is due to her, she reluctantly agrees to allow National Geographic to sponsor the trip, though it means she will have to allow Smolan to meet up with her four times to take photos.

This is not the usual travelogue, with adventures that include quirky characters, daunting dangers, and lessons learned, though all are there.  Along the way, she meets up with Aboriginal people, including one who serves as a guide for a part of the journey because it includes sacred land which she is not permitted to travel on without him.  She comes across a farmhouse, and the couple who live there welcome her in a beautifully understated manner.

You’d also expect spectacularly gorgeous and exotic scenery, and that is there, too.  And, with just one person on screen much of the time, a lot of voiceover narration, though that’s not too bad.  Most of all, this is a spiritual saga, a pilgrimage.  Davidson wanted to be alone — she admits that she is much more comfortable with animals than with people.  And she wanted to accomplish something difficult by herself.  It almost seems at moments as though we are intruding in her beautiful solitude.  But mostly, we are sharing it, and feel grateful for the privilege.

Parents should know that this film includes sad and disturbing material including suicide of a parent (off-screen) and putting down animals, dangerous activities, peril, animals shot and poisoned, some disturbing images of dead animals, some strong language (one f-word), and non-sexual nudity (female rear).

Family discussion: Why was Robyn happiest away from people? What was the hardest moment of her trip and why?

If you like this, try: other movies set in the Australian desert, including “Walkabout” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”

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Action/Adventure Animals and Nature Based on a book Based on a true story Drama Movies -- format

The Real Story: Tracks and Robyn Davidson’s Long Walk Across Australia

Posted on September 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Mia Wasikowska plays real-life adventurer Robyn Davidson in “Tracks,” based on the 1980 international best-seller about her 1700-mile walk across Australia with four camels.

A thoughtful interview with Davidson in The Australian describes her:

Davidson is an enigma. With her patrician air, prim frock and cut-glass English accent (she’s spent most of her life in London), it’s difficult to envisage her as the young woman who killed rampaging bull camels in the Australian desert, fought off rats nestling in her hair during a hellish journey with the Rabari nomads of northwest India, became a crack shot with a Savage .222 rifle, and crossed glaciers near her home in the Himalayas. She’s worked as an artist’s model and dealt blackjack in an illegal gambling den, squatted in houses and taken LSD, once having an “exquisite trip where I was Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Despite this big, adventurous life, she has described herself as “basically a dreadful coward”.

She’s whip-smart, can quote Montaigne, Levi-Strauss, Nietzsche and Novalis with the best of them, and slips easily, during our chat, from the plight of nomadic people and the slippery nature of time in a desert, to metaphysics and madness.

There’s an other-wordly, ascetic air about her: she’s described herself as a kungka rama-rama (“crazy woman” in Pitjantjatjara) and a “sausage of angel and beast”, as Chilean poet Nicanor Parra puts it. She loves a motley collection of things – silence, deserts, crows, dogs, stars (she can roll the latter off her tongue: Aldebaran, Sirius, Corvus…). I’m struck by her face, all serene planes and curves and wide Slavic cheekbones; at 62, it remains a miracle of excellent natural design. “It helps to have good scaffolding,” she concedes later during a photo shoot at Bondi, where she poses reluctantly for the camera, framed by a big blue sky and a quietly heaving sea.

Davidson told The Scotsman why she wanted to walk across the desert.

“Why? Why? Why?” Davidson laughs. “The thing that Mia said to me was that no man would be asked that. She’s absolutely right. But then perhaps if I’d been a man people wouldn’t have been so interested in the first place. Who knows? But I think that anyone who steps outside of a boundary or a cliché, it disturbs something in the culture at large so the question is, why did she do it? What does it mean that we didn’t?”

“My sense of myself is that I was a rather unformed kind of person trying to make myself up out of bits of spit and string,” is how she once described it. “Some instinct – and I think it was a correct one – led me to do something difficult enough to give my life meaning.”

Here Davidson and Wasikowska talk about the journeys they took.

And here is an interview with Davidson and National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, played by Adam Driver in the film.

Smolan’s magnificent photos appear in From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback.

Copyright Rick Smolan and Against all Odds Productions
Copyright Rick Smolan and Against all Odds Productions
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The Real Story
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