Ain’t it a great time to be alive? Two movies released this season feature women who do things of their own volition, as opposed to being smart/strong/sexy/perfect sidekicks, romantic interests, or aesthetically pleasing background noise. In fact, both women are straight-up frowny assholes caked in filth. It’s so fresh.
In Tracks, a twentysomething woman walks 1,700 miles from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with four camels and a dog. In Wild, a twentysomething woman walks 1,100 miles from the Mojave desert to the Bridge of the Gods at the Oregon-Washington border. Both films are based on memoirs by Robyn Davidson and Cheryl Strayed, respectively.
It’s no coincidence both movies were released within a few months of each other–and it’s no accident that I drove down early to Tucson for Christmas just in time for the last (only?) showings.
“Why not?” is Robyn Davidson’s (Tracks) flippant response in a voice-over. She wants to be alone with four camels and a dog and forget she’s white, forget she’s a woman—lose all her cultural trappings.
Strayed (Wild) walks to cleanse herself after her mother’s untimely death, a divorce, and battles with various addictions. She feels like a fuck-up and wants to accomplish something, become “the woman her mother raised.”
Tracks: White woman will die of thirst in the desert.
Wild: Woman alone will get raped in the woods.
Conflict is woman versus nature in Tracks. Funny since she’s the most competent person I’ve ever seen, breaking foaming-at-the-mouth camels. Camels are like lightly domesticated moose. Fucking scary.
She acts in a masculine way–brusque, callous, unafraid. She shoots two rutting bull camels in the desert while I would have stood there pooping my pants. When people respond to her in a sexist or racist way, she gives them the silent treatment. It’s tense and uncomfortable. Silent power!
Conflict is woman versus man in Wild. Strayed is massively incompetent–her boots don’t fit, she didn’t train, she brought too much stuff–but the biggest risk factor for her is creepy men who can’t read body language.
She’s strong but still feminine. Out in the middle of nowhere she’s approached by two bow hunters. We fear for her; one guy “compliments” her ass and she thanks him. Dammit! I would have too–in those situations you have to toe the line between not pissing the asshole off and letting him know you’ll gladly plunge your thumb into his eyeball.
Wild tells a braver story, without apology showing what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world. It’s great medicine for male audiences–they identify and care about a female main character, and then share her panic in these situations. It should be an eye-opener.
Doesn’t anybody remember laughter?
Strayed (Wild) needs all kinds of help all the time, and it’s a little disappointing–but in the end she makes it so give her some credit. She yearns for conversation most of the time, and never seems quite at home in nature. We get a few slapstick laughs throughout—Strayed with her massive backpack, songs stuck in her head.
Davidson (Tracks) is more withdrawn. Almost every whitefella in this film is so fucking annoying: Tourists, doubting family members, and Adam Driver taking pictures of Aboriginal elder’s secret business. The only laugh is when Mr. Eddie, her Aboriginal guide through sacred land, tells her a story over the campfire in Pitjantjatjara. We have no clue what he’s saying, but through gestures and body language we get it. It’s silly and awesome.
Mise en Scene
10 or 15 minutes of Robyn and Mr. Eddie scenes forgo English dialogue. Something happened with a kangaroo I didn’t really understand–but I like that the film is subdued and doesn’t beat me over the head with every plot point. In contrast, Wild was very, very, very busy–somehow panting up a steep hill becomes a sex flashback. Kind of a stretch.
Tracks is way more prettier. They captured the gritty seventies Nat Geo spirit pretty damn well. The Australian landscape morphs and changes from scene to scene–the sand is red, then there’s a big rock, then the sand’s brown, then there’s a dust storm. The scrub and the gentle roll of the land alternately hide and reveal things.
The Tracks movie poster makes the movie look like a romance, which irritates me. It’s not. In fact, I think she hates that dude, and not in a jovial Leia/Han Solo way. In a I-kinda-hope-that-guy-fucking-dies way.
Somehow the filmmakers of Wild managed to flatten some of the most dynamic vistas in the US–or maybe they chose to make the land itself less obtrusive than Strayed’s life story. I dunno, I was expecting postcard grandeur.
Go see both. (Forget all the negative things I said.) You may have to travel. Neither movie played in my small, outdoorsy, hipster mountain town–kind of a surprise but not really. I found Tracks at an independent theater, and Wild was playing at a Cinemark theater but only on Thursday nights (weird).
I tell you to see both because I want more movies like this, and I want them accessible and mainstream. They might not have been earth-shatteringly good, but at least they weren’t about white dudes killing things, fucking things, or whining about things. (Please, stop giving those fools your money. DON’T GO SEE THE HOBBIT.)
They say every story’s been told, but I think it’s a lie.