Robyn arrives in Alice Springs, looking for work and some camels for her journey. At Posel Camel Farm she makes a deal to work for free in exchange for learning camel taming and two wild camels. When her eight month apprenticeship is up, Farmer Posel reneges on the deal and Robyn is back to square one, albeit with some camel training tricks up her dusty sleeve. Moving on to a camel ranch, she works hard and earns her first camel. It’s around this time that an old pal shows up with a carload of friends and we see just how ill at ease Robyn is in the company of others. One of the gang is American photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) who suggests that she seek funding for her trip from a magazine. Whilst she immediately rejects the idea, she eventually writes to National Geographic Magazine. They offer funding on the proviso that they send a photographer out at regular intervals to record her journey. Alas for our misanthropic heroine, this is none other than the annoying American whose friendly advice she had scorned.
Thus, with money in her pocket and four camels in tow, Robyn sets off. What she craves is solitude and, much like the fictitious character of Ryan Stone in yesterday’s festival opener Gravity, she too is seeking an unpopulated and harsh environment in which to flee her grief. In Robyn’s case, it is her mother’s suicide that haunts her. Curran provides glimpses of her past throughout the film, and of the traumatic moment that she is taken off to live with her aunt. As Robyn encounters people along her journey, we realise that this is someone scared of creating relationships: the further she heads into the outback, the more she engages with people, in particular Mr Eddie, the aborigine elder who guides her across sacred territory.
One of the most tender scenes is when she reaches a farm and is invited in. The scene of the farmer’s wife bathing Robyn shows us what this damaged young woman has been missing: the caring hand of a mother, the security of nights on the homestead, playing Scrabble and listening to records. Robyn has travelled hundreds of miles to escape her memories, only to have them played out for her in the middle of the desert.
Mia Wasikowska’s Robyn is a fine and courageous performance, worthy of the redoubtable woman she portrays. John Curran has produced a solid film that never tips into melodrama despite the many dramas Robyn faced. Whether it merits its competition status is debatable, but it is a fascinating story of a woman’s interior journey that is almost more arduous than the physical one she has embarked on and it deserves a wider audience.