We are in 1977, where we meet the young and beautiful Robyn Davidson (played by Mia Wasikowska of Alice in Wonderland fame) as she travels via train from Brisbane to Alice Springs. Robyn goes straight to the local pub to gain employment, stating that she has a plan to cross 2,700 kilometres of Australian deserts to the Indian Ocean with her black dog. Soon, Robyn leaves the employ of the pub to go and gain the necessary four camels for her trip, where wackiness ensues!
In the early 80s and 90s, there were 5 attempts to turn the adaptation of Robyn's memoir into a movie. In 1993, Julia Roberts of Pretty Woman fame was attached to star in a planned Caravan Pictures adaptation, and Nicole Kidman was also involved at one point. Oddly, the development of the movie adaptation began before lead actress Mia Wasikowska was even born!
The movie was shot in South Australia and the Northern Territory on a budget of $12m. The movie was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentation) and the 70th Venice International Film Festival 2013 where it was nominated for best film. The movie opened the Adelaide Film Festival as the Australian premiere and has gone on to screen at several other film festivals, including London, Vancouver, Telluride , Dubai , Sydney Open-air, Dublin and Glasgow.
We are put right into proceedings from the get go, with very little background as to the ‘why’; why would a beautiful young woman want to travel through the dessert alone with only 4 camels and a dog for company? We are even more baffled by the nature she has to go through to even get to the point of the journey: working for 2 years on a camel farm to be able to be given the required 4 camels to make the journey. Hers is a mysterious, grim determination that causes us, and those around her, bafflement.
In great minimalistic plot progression, we of course, gradually become privy to Robyn’s way of thinking: at the time in the 1970’s, being surrounded by beatnik wannabee political activists, Robyn may just want to have some time to herself to deal with her own demons.
The want to be alone is strong in Robyn, and, thus, the start of her journey is much desired. This desire is shared with us as well: we experience her frustration at the economic hurdles that she must face to independently start her journey, and the barely hidden judgment from family friends and complete strangers once they learn of her intentions. Of course, once Robyn does start her journey into the void, more obstacles arise along her way that interrupt her desired need to be able to explore her self, surrounded by the dessert that she holds such a passion for.
Robyn’s character arch is such a natural progression that one could wonder what exactly happened in the movie. However, in her want for her pure isolation to be able to be afforded inward reflection, Robyn is forced to acknowledge her need of others to successfully complete her travels: finance, assistance and companionship.
The Cinematography of Mandy Walker of Lantana, Shattered Glass and Australia fame is fantastic. The frame captures the Anzac feel of rural town life in their pubs, farms and homesteads. The shots of the Great Australian desert are the highlights of the movie, and what we, as an audience, and Robyn as a character, so desperately want to experience: they are amazing. The camera, like in Beautiful Kate, strongly holds onto Mia at times, restricting our view of a free, roaming plane, imposing on us uncomfortably, symbolic of the crushing limitlessness of the Australian dessert. The camels are beautiful, and makes one wonder how on earth could Robyn, and Mia, ever say goodbye to such beautiful, and loyal, creatures at journey’s end.
An unlikable, but empathetic character who does complete a redemptive arch of personal discovery while undergoing a visually lush experience that has been captured wonderfully: 4 out of 5 camels.