Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, US, 2014
There is a purifying allure to the American wilderness. Thoreau wished to live deliberately there, Jack London heard its call, and Cheryl Strayed found redemption there.
Wild is based on Strayed’s 2012 memoir chronicling her through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is over 2,500 miles of desert, mountains, more desert, and more mountains. No coward path.
Like the memoir, the film is inter-cut with flashbacks from Strayed’s life before her epic journey. The flashbacks tell us what compelled her to travel 2,500 miles across the mountain west. Her life at this time could charitable be called problematic, or more accurately, a dumpster fire of sex and heroin addiction.
Reese Witherspoon may not win her second Oscar for her portrayal of Strayed, but there isn’t much more she could have done. The film is shot entirely from Strayed’s first person perspective. While the film is well cast otherwise (Laura Dern especially), this adds a degree of difficulty to Witherspoon’s performance because every characterization in the film is dependent on her perspective.
Witherspoon’s performance draws us into the story and makes us care about it. Vallee’s direction does nothing but help by always bringing us back to the center of the movie – the hike. He uses the flashbacks effectively and doesn’t oversell them.
Finally, the film offers a complete character study of a woman without focusing on her relationships with men. There is some of that in Wild (Strayed is human after all), but it doesn’t dwell there. The emotional center of the story is Strayed’s relationship with her mother, and the action is centered around her journey through the wilderness. And what a journey it is.
You might like Wild if: You enjoy well presented, emotional character studies or the outdoors.
You might not like Wild if: The outdoors gives you the creeps.
(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe