Now that technology has made it impossible to ever be truly lost or alone, the idea of venturing out into the wilderness by yourself feels all the more romantic. No wonder it’s becoming a popular movie fantasy. In December, Reese Witherspoon will star in Wild, the true story of Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. But Strayed’s story owes a lot to the one in Tracks, which follows real-life pioneer Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) as she treks 1,700 miles through the Australian desert with four camels and a dog by her side. She went on to write a National Geographic piece about the experience that she then expanded into a best-seller.
Like Davidson herself, this lush adaptation from director John Curran (The Painted Veil) is remarkable for accomplishing so much with so little. There’s no love story, although Adam Driver is marvelously dorky as a National Geographic photographer who meets up with Davidson every so often and might be nursing a crush. There’s minimal dialogue — and, really, not much to say, because Wasikowska’s riveting performance tells you everything you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there’s virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson’s motives for taking the journey: The script only hints at a tragic backstory, and in a voice-over, Davidson thwarts any attempt to brand her as a women’s-rights activist or a nature conqueror, stating only that she wanted to ”feel free.”
Still, what’s on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson’s chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we puny mortals are. There’s a powerful message about human endurance in there, and no one needs to hear it more than this generation, which came of age too late for Joseph Campbell’s rites-of-passage ceremonies and would never survive in the desert without an iPhone compass app. A