‘Tracks’ is worth the journey

This picture engages with the back-to-nature aesthetic without seeming hokey.

To its credit, “Tracks” never seeks to answer the most obvious question about the epic journey at its center: the 1,700 mile walk across the Australian Outback undertaken by Robyn Davidson, a dog and four camels in 1977.

That question is “why,” of course, and John Curran’s film of Robyn’s journey works because it understands just how unimportant that explanation really is.

Besides, it’s not even clear that Robyn herself could answer that question, at least based on the way she’s played by the great Mia Wasikowska or the great care Curran and screenwriter Marion Nelson take to craft an experiential drama out of the trip, to emphasize the majesty of the desert expanse and the stillness of solitude.

As played by Wasikowska, who radiates intelligence even when she’s just trudging through the desert, Robyn makes this journey because she’s compelled to do so on a deep, primal level.

Combining sweeping overhead shots with dreamlike flashbacks and utilizing other sensorial touches to convey the visceral truths of this journey across the scorching sand, the picture engages with the back-to-nature aesthetic without seeming hokey or overwrought. There’s no great message here; simply an evocation of a remarkable experience that meant something great to someone at a certain time.

Biographical details drip out and the movie conflates elements of Robyn’s trip with a difficult past, but it’s painstaking in its refusal to over-explain things.

“Tracks” treats Robyn seriously and respectfully, rather than as an object of abject fascination, and it understands that life is fundamentally about embracing the mystery and majesty of the inexplicable. It’s about tuning in and absorbing the grandeur of the sky, the sea and the stars.

Robert Levin