Rated – R
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
This review contains some spoilers.
The opening scene is one we’ve been teased with through commercials and trailers. We see Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon), exhausted and dirty taking a break from her hike. She takes off her boots to reveal bloody feet, one in such bad shape that her toenail is about to fall off. As she leans over in pain, one of her boots falls down the hill until it’s no longer in sight. She screams at the top of her lungs as she throws her other boot down the hill in frustration. This opening scene captures the place Cheryl Strayed is in, physically and emotionally, in her life.
Based on the best-selling memoir by the real Strayed, Wild is an ambitious tale about a woman searching to salvage what’s left of her life. As I watched the first half hour of the film, I kept asking myself, “Why is she doing this?” You don’t find any random person who decides to hike over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail for no reason. There has to be a damn good reason for someone to push herself to this sort of limit, but the big question is, Why?
We find out why as the film unravels through many flashbacks and crucial moments of Strayed’s life, specifically the relationship she had with her mother (Laura Dern). Strayed never had the life that one imagines as a child. She barely had enough money to scrape by and top that with an abusive father and her mom falling ill, she lost sight of how much her life was worth. She knew she needed to change, but I’m not sure if she knew what needed to change. You find out a lot about yourself if you spend months on the road, walking over 1,000 miles by yourself. It seems that Strayed was able to find what she was looking for.
There is plenty of gorgeous scenery throughout Wild, something you should expect from a film that is surrounded by nature. And though Strayed takes the hike alone, she meets a handful of memorable characters along the way. Through these meetings she encounters another layer of fear on top of the fact that it’s possible she could run out of food and water while walking along through the desert in 100 degree temperature. There are good people and bad people in the world, and when you cross paths with them, is it right to be afraid? And even when you cross bad people, is there really anything you can do to prepare yourself for it? Strayed has crossed paths with plenty of bad people in her past, but it’s interesting how she allows her experiences to influence her hike as well.
Reese Witherspoon gives an unbelievable performance as Cheryl Strayed. At first, it’s her physical acting that impresses, but as the film moves forward the subtle things she does takes over her performance. She’s stripped of everything but proves she has so much to give to the world. Her scenes with Laura Dern are all great, and when we learn how complicated Cheryl Strayed is, we can also marvel at the performance Witherspoon is giving. What’s most impressive is that Strayed isn’t a character that is pure or even good at times, but that makes her more human than what we’re used to seeing and that benefits the film. Strayed has made mistakes and there are plenty of things she shouldn’t have done, but she learns that if all of those things brought her to the moment she’s living in, as long as she’s still alive and breathing, then maybe all of those bad decisions were the right ones. At the end, this is a film about letting go of the idea that you’re in complete control of your life, because you’re not. But you have to keep on hiking forward no matter how much baggage you’re carrying on your back.