Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) has gotten it into her head that she really needs to be in the wilderness, so what better place to be than the desert region of the Australian Outback? She heads for Alice Springs to plan her journey, finding accommodation there and getting a job, but as far as she can work out she needs three camels which will carry her belongings and kit, and getting those will be easier said than done. She will have to learn to train them for a start, and as camels, an imported beast to Australia, have become so prosperous there they have been farmed locally to where she is, she secures the guidance she needs from a not very friendly person (Rainer Bock) for the next few months...
Although it actually took Robyn a couple of years before she could actually begin her trek back in the mid-nineteen-seventies, a walk of two thousand miles and lasting the better part of a year which became, against her wishes, an excursion that spread her name around the globe after she managed to acquire funding from the National Geographic magazine on the assurance that she would be trailed by an American photographer, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), who would meet her at regular stops along the way to be snapped and recorded, though he would not actually be with her for the whole of the trip. She is shown to be reluctant about agreeing to this, but had no choice if she wanted to be able to afford what was in effect a journey without a valid reason.
Or was it? Some viewers found the protagonist frustrating, in Davidson’s original book as well as the long-gestating movie version, since they could see no explanation for undertaking the task she set herself, but her reasons were as much rooted in the hippy-dippy hangover of the seventies as they were in any hard and fast facts, if not more. Simply feeling an overwhelming need to be out there alone, thousands of miles from most kinds of civilisation, was enough for her to take part in what was in essence a defining period of her life, and one that was entirely self-created; nobody asked her to do it, she just had to for her own peace of mind, whether to get away from it all or to attain a sense of achievement, that was purpose enough in itself.
Of course, this whole notion of going back to nature to get to the heart of your own existence was a very seventies experience all round, and this might have been better if it had been made sometime closer to the events it depicted to truly get that authenticity, but as it was director John Curran tried pretty well to get under the sunburned skin of his heroine without serving the audience a big plateful of pop psychology. Wasikowska didn't give much away since for most of the film she had nobody to talk to except the four camels (one of the beasts had a calf along the course of the story) and her loyal dog Diggity who she channels all her affection into. That said, we were offered titbits of information as to what had brought her to these places, such as the suicide of her mother and her father's history of desert exploration.
Which was not to say she doesn't see anyone at all on her expedition, she does, and not only Rick who in spite of her resenting his insistence on capturing her for posterity is genuinely looking out for her; in a moment of clarity, she explains to a hermit that she has no trouble dealing with nasty people but has no idea what to do when approached by nice people, totally unused to the correct responses, another prompt to regard her desire for solitude as something deeply ingrained in her personality and not some affectation that would render her shallow and antisocial because no one would want to be her friend anyway. Indeed, most of the folks she encounters are very concerned about her, certainly the tourists who want her photo are a nuisance at best and enemies of her self-discovery at worst, but everyone else from the aboriginal elder who accompanies her part of the way to the elderly couple in the middle of nowhere who set her mind back to its proper path in the increasingly trippy and cosmic tone of the movie want to look after Robyn. Which says a lot positive about curiosity born of human nature, even that unwanted interest in your affairs. Music by Garth Stevenson.