Wild Movie Review: Out of the Wilderness
‘Wild’ packs in a combination of various film genres into one poignant movie. It is a bio-pic that is part travel documentary, adventure, coming-of-age story, family drama (albeit with adult content), chick flick and what-have-you. It is a true story, after all, and real life is always a mix of many things.
Based on the same-titled memoir of Cheryl Strayed that chronicled the author’s 1,100-mile arduous journey along the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT, ‘Wild’ is flashbacks-packed. The scenes alternate between the tumultuous past of Cheryl (played convincingly by Academy Award® winning actress Reese Witherspoon) and her solitary trek through PCT, a dangerous trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington in the US.
The then 26-year-old Cheryl embarks on an impulsive hike along the PCT in 1995 in a bid to get over the death of her mother (played by Laura Dern) from lung cancer and her failed marriage. As she says at the start of her journey:“I will walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was.” Armed with all the hiking and camping supplies that she can stuff into her backpack that she can barely carry, she sets off to find herself in the wild.
During the 90-day journey, Cheryl confronts all of her past traumas and angst in life with every mile she travels. She recalls her difficult childhood years, raised singlehandedly by her mom (Bobbi), who escaped an abusive relationship with her father. Although financially challenged, Cheryl’s easygoing and gentle-mannered mother provided a loving home for her and her younger brother. Still, she resented growing up poor and debt-ridden.
Cheryl stumbles into the wilderness not along the treacherous PCT trail. She reached pit bottom when her mom died at the age of 45; she was 22 years old then. For the next four years, Cheryl’s life was a wild rollercoaster of drugs and casual affairs with different men while married to Paul, who eventually divorced her. In one interview, Cheryl estimates that at the height of her promiscuity, she had around 30 sex partners. So, don’t be surprised to see Reese Witherspoon in her most adult role to date, a really big leap from her ‘Legally Blonde’ or ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ portrayals.
Cheryl’s emotional baggage on the PCT trail seems heavier than her huge 70-ton backpack (teasingly called ‘Monster’ by the hikers she met along the way), but out in the wild, she has to deal with her ‘demons’ one by one. The physical challenges she has to contend with on the trail help distract her from her mental anguish, though. Inexperienced as she is, she has to deal with rattlesnakes, extreme weather conditions, threats of being raped, and running out of food and water.
Although an inexperienced trekker, Cheryl Strayed’s determination not to quit earned the admiration of other Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) trekkers who called her the ‘Queen of PCT’
Since nature has a surefire way of restoring weary souls, Cheryl finds comfort and clarity as she nears the end of her epic journey. She starts to appreciate the scenery and also meets a lot of good folks along the way. A mysterious fox that appears to be the spirit of her mother also accompanies her.
All’s well that ends well. Cheryl finally learns to forgive her rebellious self. In the end, she heeds her mother’s advice to her: “Find your best self and when you do, hold on to it for dear life.”
‘Wild‘ is a visual treat all the way, great cinematography. Seeing the vast desert landscape, snowy mountains and forest terrain, moviegoers will dream of setting off for a hike themselves. For sure, the PCT trail will be even more popular after this movie.
The music of Simon and Garfunkel, particularly the song ‘El Condor Pasa (If I Only Could)’ and ‘Homeward Bound’, add sentimental texture to the movie. You’ll soon be humming those songs when you leave the movie theater. A lot of literary and inspiring quotes thrown here and there, too, which will appeal to the ‘reading’ crowd. Cheryl’s mother is big on literature, which clearly rubbed off on her. It is no wonder she ended up as a book author.
Cheryl Strayed kept a journal all throughout her 20s and 30s, and “a particularly detailed one” on her PCT hike. It became the material for the movie. She said: “My journal was enormously helpful to me as I wrote the book, often providing me with details I’d have forgotten”.
Those who read the book will know that Cheryl is now in her mid-40s and happily married to filmmaker Brian Lindstrom with whom she has two children—Carver and Bobbi (named after her mom). The real Cheryl has a cameo appearance in the movie, as the driver of the truck who dropped off her character on to the start of her PCT trek.
‘Wild’ was co-produced by Reese Witherspoon, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and with screenplay written by English novelist Nick Hornby (author of ‘About a Boy’).
The reel and real life Cheryl Strayed. A few months before the book ‘Wild’ was published in March 2012, Reese Witherspoon got hold of the manuscript and immediately expressed her interest to turn it into a movie, under her production company.
‘Wild’ is now showing in local cinemas.