Sometimes all you want is a quiet walk in the desert
11 PM, Saturday night, downtown. I’m on my way home from the theatre and for once I’m not plugged into anything. My phone is resting idle in my pocket. I don’t listen to any podcast. I listen to the sounds of the night. I hear the cars humming, I hear the wind giving a tree a shake-about, I hear the soft ticking at a pedestrian crossing, telling me to be patient. I see a few people, lonely wanderers in the night like me. But they don’t see me. They’re too busy staring at the screens of their mobiles. Their faces are bright, illuminated. It makes them look creepy.
Any other night I wouldn’t react; this has been a familiar look for years. But this particular night the spell was broken and I suddenly I could see it from the outside. Somewhere on the way we lost the ability to spend time in company with ourselves. We developed this fear for being alone, and now it’s gone so far that even a minute of silence becomes threatening. As soon as the world goes quiet, we have to fill it with whatever distraction we find on the web.
In a different world
How different wasn’t the world back in the 70s, when Tracks, the movie I just watched, takes place? Robyn Davidson made her 3 000 km walk through the Australian desert in company with four camels and a dog. Reluctantly she brought a radio, but she didn’t want to bring a generator in order to make it run. Back in those days there wasn’t such a thing as a mobile phone, even less Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. She could walk for a month without seeing a single person, and she was fine with it most of the time. When she finally had to meet up with the photographer from National Geographic, in order to fulfil her part of their agreement, she only did it reluctantly. It was a disturbance in her meditation.
Today’s adventurers on the other hand are always available for communication. Always. If there’s nothing else available they’ll use satellite phones, whatever it takes to get in touch with the world. The question is if they’re in touch with themselves or if the screen gets in the way.
Expeditions that end up in magazines these days are usually dangerous ones. A walk in the desert isn’t enough to get a sponsor contract; you need to be more spectacular to get the needed attention. If you insist on climbing Mount Everest, like many before you, the least you can do is to leave the top flying with a jump suit.
Robyn’s walk in the desert is a surprisingly quiet for being the topic of an entire feature film. I have to assume that they changed very little from the true story that it’s based on. This is a basically a stroll in the desert, occasionally interrupted by someone or something getting lost: a camel, a compass, herself. The missing things are usually found within a minute, so you barely have time to get worried on her behalf before the order is restored. Oh, and of course there is that mandatory snake scene as well. As we all know you can’t have a desert movie without tossing a snake in the face of the protagonist at some point.
An enjoyable walk
This may sound as if it is a bit of a drag, and maybe it is to some people, but to me it wasn’t. I enjoyed this walking with camels quite a bit. There’s some beautiful photography that has a soothing effect on me. Every once in a while there’s a voice-over when she cracks a few words of wisdom, the kind of life-affirming insights you obviously get in the desert. It’s the kind of sayings that you could write down and put on your refrigerator as a daily reminder about what’s important in life.
Mia Wasikowska is excellent in the leading role, with an aura that is a perfect blend of determination, innocence and existential angst. Adam Driver on the other hand doesn’t convince me as a National Geographic photographer. As charming as he is, he looks more like one of his usual roles as chic urban geek, an odd mix of comic relief and love interest that lacks something. Perhaps it’s the chemistry that feels off.
Best in show
Best in show however are the animals. The dog Diggety is the cutest you’ve seen. And have you ever paid close attention to a camel? Have you seen the faces they can make? Have you heard them roar? Have you seen them drooling? It’s quite something, I assure you and altogether different from the tired, dusty hunchbacked zombies they keep in zoos.
A thought crossed my mind as I entered the bus. Wouldn’t Tracks make an excellent relaxation app? Aren’t people tired of listening to ocean waves, flutes and dubious affirmations? How about the sound of a desert storms and camel steps or a change?
For fifteen minutes I had lived in the spell of Tracks, paying attention to the world around me. The thought of the app broke it. I saw how my hand, as if governed by another will, slipped into my pocket. There it was.
Tracks (John Curran, AU 2013) My rating: 4/5