Wild (2015)

WildIn 1995, after years of substance- and self-abuse, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decided to walk the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, a distance of 2,654 miles along the Sierra Nevada, in the hope of remaking herself as the woman her mother (Laura Dern) raised. Over the next few months, Strayed will cross three states, lose shoes and toenails, encounter desert, woodland and snowbanks, and slowly come to terms with her latent heroine addiction, her failed marriage to ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) and her mother’s untimely death. Forced to skip a portion of the trail due to hazardous weather conditions, she resolves to finish not at the proscribed terminus but at the Bridge of the Gods, 1,1oo miles from her starting point.

Following in the footsteps of Tracks, John Curran’s account of Robyn Davidson’s 1,700 mile trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild finds another intrepid young woman inspired by circumstance to wander alone in the desert, this time California’s Mojave as opposed to the Australian outback. For Cheryl Strayed, however, the reasons for her journey are slightly different; motivated not by generational malaise but personal trauma, Strayed (originally Nyland, but later changed — rather masochistically, it must be said — when she cheated on her husband) is seeking to redeem herself in her own eyes, and in the eyes of her late mother. Although just twenty-six when she embarked on the PCT, she had already endured a lifetime of anguish, and through flashbacks screenwriter Nick Hornby explores what Strayed herself has since dubbed her genesis story.

These parallel narratives — a feature inherited from Strayed’s own source material — isn’t the only major difference between the films, with Hornby giving voice to Strayed’s internal dialogue where Marion Nelson left Mia Wasikowska’s performance speak for itself. It’s perhaps Wild‘s signature flourish, its writer employing a hypnotic, free-associative style which not only helps to unpack Strayed’s psychological hang-ups for the audience but give her personal breakthroughs greater resonance and power. It’s disorientating to begin with, as Strayed’s thoughts — and John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa’s edits — cut unconsciously from one memory to the next, but then elucidation facilitates reconciliation, however vicarious, as the protagonist begins to work through and eventually come to terms with these various traumas. Most people talk to themselves when alone, and Wild does a terrific job of recreating these apparently random utterances while also using them to develop Strayed’s character.

Witherspoon is entirely convincing in the role, and though she obviously didn’t recreate the journey in full (or even in significant part) she does an impeccable job of capturing the hardships and rewards of walking a long distance footpath. The opening scene, in which Strayed delicately teases a broken toenail, is suitably wince-inducing, while her amazement that a fellow hiker is managing twenty miles a day or when he later gives up is priceless. Vallee doesn’t shy away from the darker truths either, and stays faithful to the fears and unfortunately the reality women often face when they choose to walk alone. In flashback, it’s Dern that impresses most; Witherspoon admirably bares all, both emotionally and physically, but Dern manages a heart-breaking honesty with half as much effort. Her death, and the scenes following it, are haunting enough onscreen; it’s no wonder Strayed felt the need to hike a hundred miles in reality.

That said, for all of its suffering and self-discovery Wild ultimately lacks the simple beauty of Tracks. The scenery is no less sensational and Strayed’s achievements just as great, but the motivational ambiguities (despite often exhaustive detail) are no match for Robyn Davidson’s single-minded determination. It never feels quite as wild.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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