The true story of a young woman’s nine-month, 1,700-mile walk across the deserts of Western Australia in 1977, in the company of just four camels and her dog, Tracks stars prized Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, who has an atmosphere of genuine, stoic thoughtfulness quite different from the professional, much-enduring thoughtfulness you see in some actresses of her age. She goes so deep into the part of author Robyn Davidson you feel certain that in 20 years’ time when asked about her most transformative movie she will answer Tracks. Director John Curran made the underrated 2006 adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil (about a studious bacteriologist and a vain socialite falling in doomed love in remote 1920s choleraic China) and has skill with heat and disorientation, with people abandoning the comfortable to join the ranks of the toughs.
Why is Davidson on this journey? Is it misanthropy or a form of narcissism? Along the way she meets both white and native Australians scratching a living out of the dirt – faces that could have been photographed by Dorothea Lang. There are scenes where Wasikowska looks so filthy herself, so ragtaggle and roughneck, she might be one of Fagin’s juvenile pickpockets. When Adam Driver, playing an amorous National Geographic photographer, pitches up to accompany her now and again (she hates the intrusion, hates photographs), you can smell his mouthwash and American optimism. This witty actor (made famous in the HBO TV show Girls) has a way of looking at people with eyes so permanently entertained, so jazzed, he seems to be staring even when he isn’t. Wasikowska curls her lip and continues on her way towards the next stretch of desert or dune – there’s some of the pleasure in, and fear of, sand seen in Minghella’s The English Patient. Vast, dark-dreamish, touching.