Take a Drink: every time Cheryl says, “Shit” or “Quit”.
Take a Drink: every time the word, “Days” is superimposed on the screen.
Take a Drink: every time there’s a flashback.
Do a Shot: every time you see a PCT sign.
Shotgun a Beer: when the stalker fox appears.
By: Amelia Solomon (A Toast) –
Wild, an adaptation of the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, follows Cheryl Strayed as she hikes over 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to redeem herself for her past transgressions and heal her emotional wounds from her mother’s death, her divorce, and subsequent drug use.
Produced by Reese Witherspoon, who also stars as Cheryl Strayed, and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose recent directing resume includes the critically lauded Dallas Buyers Club, the film is an honest portrayal of one woman’s odyssey against nature and against herself. Screenwriter Nick Hornby mirrors the source material, by telling the story in a linear fashion from the start of Cheryl’s hike to the end, while interspersing flashbacks throughout that give the viewer a window into the state of Cheryl’s life and mindset in the years preceding her remarkable journey through the wilderness.
Films that follow one person’s quest of self-discovery while having to face harsh elements have been made before. 127 Hours, All is Lost, and Life of Pi are just a few of the most recent examples. But to make the film interesting, while its focus is usually only on the main character, and to debunk standard story structure, but still have a film that captures the audience’s attention is quite a feat. Wild is successful in this manner, in that it never bores and never falls prey to cheap tricks.
Reese Witherspoon, as Cheryl Strayed, gives a subtle performance that is not overly showy or dramatic, but downright real. Whether she’s falling over because her backpack is too heavy, grimacing at her bruises in the mirror, fearing for her life during an encounter with a rattlesnake, or enjoying a Snapple, she invokes the human condition masterfully. Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother Bobbi, and mostly appears in Cheryl’s flashbacks and as a vision to Cheryl at poignant parts of her hike, gives a spellbinding performance. She appears as a whimsical woman who doesn’t have much and shouldn’t have much reason to enjoy life, but finds a way to be happy. She tells Cheryl that “I was never even in the driver’s seat of my own life,” but acknowledges that she wouldn’t change a thing, because then she would have never had her daughter and son. She serves as a source of strength for Cheryl and a way that Cheryl measures herself. Cheryl says on more than one occasion, during the hike, that she hasn’t been living like the daughter her mother raised.
Wild relies on the scenery of the Southwest and Pacific Northwest to show the viewer how small human beings are in the grand scheme of things and to invoke the solitude that Cheryl feels on a daily basis. The vastness of the landscape serves as a metaphor for how alone Cheryl is, after losing her mother and her husband. Cinematographer Yves Belanger also focuses on the details, by painting beauty in the ordinary, such as the green moss on trees in Oregon.
The film’s soundtrack adds an important layer to the film and features such greats as Bruce Springsteen, Portishead, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Grateful Dead. Cheryl’s mom Bobbi (Laura Dern) plays Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” often, during the flashback scenes, and it’s this song’s haunting appearance during parts of Cheryl’s hike that is both astonishingly eerie and deeply moving. There’s a wonderful scene in the film where Cheryl wanders into the town of Ashland and comes upon a vigil for the late Jerry Garcia, who’s just died. She walks into a crowd of hippies and listens to two musicians play “Ripple”. It’s this song and this event that makes Cheryl feel whole, because after days of seeing no one, she is part of a communal moment.
What I found most surprisingly interesting about Wild was its commentary on the conundrum of being a woman. Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone, and it’s said to her numerous times that hiking alone isn’t safe for a woman. In fact when she runs into another woman, over 60 days into her hike, she’s elated. They have an unspeakable bond and find solace that the other one is just present. The film depicts two scenes in which Cheryl is fearful for her life. Both times it’s because she is approached by men, alone on the trail. She wants to trust them, but her instincts of self-preservation make her wary and the viewer can feel her anxiety. Nothing horrible happens to her in the film, but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened. Director Vallee used a scene late in the film to show the other side of the coin. Cheryl sways a Park Ranger to reopen a mail room after hours, so she can collect her packages, but he doesn’t offer the same favor to a group of male hikers. The Park Ranger also brings Cheryl coffee and a doughnut the next morning. The scene exemplifies how being female can lead to special treatment, and points out that her sex is often a double-edged sword, just as it was during her grief-filled and drug-fueled promiscuity after her mother’s death. It’s Cheryl that states, “Women can’t just walk out of their lives.” When asked if she’s a Feminist she immediately answers, “Yes.” What she doesn’t realize is that she did in fact walk out of her own life, meaning that she was able to escape and embark on her journey.
Wild is in a small class of films that successfully depicts a person’s journey, both literally and figuratively. It’s based on a moving memoir and draws on unforgettable lines from the book to punctuate Cheryl’s feelings throughout the film. The best line is “God’s a ruthless bitch.” The film reminds us that despite your troubles, you never know where your life is going.
Stay for the credits to see candid photos of the real Cheryl Strayed.