Do you dream of being lost?
In our contemporary landscape getting lost seems impossible. Everywhere we turn there are cameras, phones, and other sorts of devices that can ensure we can be found. These technological innovations are made to keep us in the world, regardless of where we are. Perhaps that’s why disappearing into the unknown becomes such a dream. The fantasy of walking out your door without your phone or wallet, without your key, and just head towards oblivion taunts us everyday. Because you wonder what would you discover if, for once, you chose to let go of what you know? Is it possible that only then you would find your purpose, your joy, yourself?
In 1977, 26-year-old Robyn Davidson walked into the Australian outback and trekked through the desert for nine months, joined by only four camels and her dog. In 2013, director John Curran brought the story to life in the film Tracks, which is the same title of Davidson’s book about her experience.
Two years before setting out on her journey, Davidson arrived in Alice Springs, almost in the center of Australia, to learn to train camels and save money for her trip. She wasn’t interested in documenting her walk through the desert. But she soon realized she would need some sort of sponsor to finance her self-imposed walk of exile. She contacted National Geographic, who then sent photographer Rick Smolan to meet her at different points of the road.
Davidson was not happy with Smolan or the images he’d capture of her. But eventually the two became friends and, for a brief moment, lovers. This mutual respect surged from the photographer being the Camel Lady’s only link to the world. While it’s easy to get carried away into the romantic entanglement, the relationship between the two has more to do with these two people coming to understand one another.
Mia Wasikowksa takes on the role of Davidson in a way that presents the young woman’s inner struggles without turning the story into a Lifetime movie. After all, in the wrong hands, this story could be presented as that of a frivolous feat from a self-involved woman bored of city life. Thankfully that doesn’t happen because there’s already plenty of those out there. This is a story about a journey towards purpose, of doing something so outrageous that the protagonist herself knows she’s in over her head as she’s doing it, but the desire to find her true nature is so strong that she goes on.
In an interview for a mini documentary on Smolan’s photography book, Davidson attempts to explain her reason for her journey, which several people claim is still a mystery, “The thrust of the thing was to do something to be the subject of my own life.”
That explanation is not complicated at all. In reality this is something all of us go through during our coming of age, regardless of when it happens during our life. We’re so full of expectations, both ours and of others, that we forget we are creators of ourselves. We might not be able to control whatever tragedy or opportunities come our way, but we can choose how they affect us or how we use those moments to take a step towards our goals.
The Robyn who leaves Alice Springs is not the same as the one who reaches the Indian Ocean. The incredible part is how it does not end the way we expect. Usually when we see someone leave everything to be with nature, we’re shown how they never really return to the known world. But Davidson actually finds more connections to others in her solitude than you’d expect. It’s sort of a beautiful tale of realizing, while completely alone, that your story is connected to that of others.
In the role of Smolan, Adam Driver is perfect portraying this playful goofy American photographer against Davidson’s quiet intensity. We see how his concern for her wellbeing goes beyond a simple romantic tryst. His respect for her determination ultimately leads to his concern that she might not finish her journey. When speaking with National Geographic’s behind-the-scenes magazine Proof, Smolan explains quite plainly their relationship since then: “She asked me whether I wondered what would’ve happened if we’d stayed together —and I said we’d probably be divorced and hate each other now.”
Both Davidson and Smolan met with the actors during the shoot. In 2014 the author was interviewed by a radio show for ABC Australia. When asked about how her journey can inspire contemporary audiences, regardless of whether they go into the outback or not, Robyn said, "You really can expand the boundaries of your life and do risky things and prove yourself by doing them."
The author says she keeps trying to balance her life and her own space. She doesn’t always leave her house with her phone and has a house in the Himalayas where she goes when she needs to get away from it all. Davidson proves there are ways to find peace within this modern setting and that there’s no need to be constantly available to others. “I try to factor solitude into my life, because more and more that's becoming a very precious and rare commodity.”
Tracks is a film that shows how the thing we fear the most in our present time is being away from it all and how terrified we are of not being in virtual or physical contact with other people, because then we’d have to deal with our own issues; we would have to face who we are instead of the person we have been pretending to be. In this moment of complete abandon, we would need to confront the part of us we don’t like. But maybe by doing that, we might be able to find a true form of happiness and fulfillment.
You can hear more about Robyn Davidson's walk through the outback and Rick Smolan's experience photographing her at different moments in the mini documentary Inside Tracks.
Robyn's feat across the desert is captured beautifully in the film, showing a strong protagonist that can fend for herself while battling an internal turmoil. If you're interested you can read more about how the true feminist heroes don't require of a love interest or the story of the goth nun that teaches us about finding our true selves beyond the stereotype.