Misery. Hunger. Agony. Sounds great, eh? Cheryl Strayed’s journey in Wild is no escapist trip to eat pasta and meet with a guru (think Eat, Pray, Love). It’s not appealing in the traditional way, though it does suggest to viewers that the best way to deal with a difficult situation may be taking off and leaving it all behind for a while. This is a route unavailable to most people, and avoidance can sometimes exacerbate the problem. But Cheryl’s journey turns into a real pilgrimage to a new life.
Cheryl was devastated when her mother passed away, and she lost herself in drugs, promiscuity, and alcohol. In an attempt to turn herself into the person her mother wanted her to be, she hit the Pacific Crest Trail for three months to hike 1,100 miles alone, putting herself “in the way of beauty.”
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed Dallas Buyers Club, Wild has some of the same sensibilities—incorporating flashbacks that make viewers feel they are experiencing those memories in a visceral way. It’s a fluid, effective method of bringing viewers into the character’s difficult history without a lot of exposition. And it is a difficult history—Strayed definitely strayed into some dark territory, and viewers go there too.
On the trail, we encounter a protagonist who finds herself by delving into the beauty and majesty of creation, all the while railing against the Creator. I wanted to see more of a spiritual transformation—it was frustrating to see her continue some of the behaviors that contributed to her problems in the first place.
On the other hand, this is a lament that is not sugar-coated. It is real to the point that at the end she admits she still has no idea what to do next, though the raw reality of her continuing confusion is softened by a voiceover that assures that she went on to a healthy relationship and the gift of a family.
Well-filmed and enriched with a strong, edgy performance by Reese Witherspoon, the movie offers a harsh but captivating look at both grief and the connection that we have with the earth, with our bodies, and with each other. On disc now. (Fox Searchlight)