WILD is the American biographical drama, written by Nick Hornby, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (The Dallas Buyers Club) and is based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest. Wild tells the extraordinary story of Cheryl Strayed, who leaves her life of hardship and trauma to trek more than one thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, echoes the 2007 biographical drama Into the Wild (Sean Penn) where Emory graduate Christopher McCandless chooses to give up his worldly possessions and former life and journey through the Alaskan wilderness. Strayed’s decision to embark on this perilous voyage is undoubtedly more poignant than that of McCandless, who is discontented with his wealthy family life and pursue a life of isolation in the wilderness. Strayed, however, is escaping a life filled with torment and hardship and seeks to heal the wounds of a tumultuous past.
Witherspoon is commendable as Strayed, capturing the pain, anger and determination of a woman tormented with an abusive childhood, the death of her mother, divorce and years of destructive behaviour of heroin abuse and promiscuity. It is undoubtedly her most memorable performance since her Oscar-nominated performance as June Carter in Walk the Line.
Strayed is both complicated and fascinating, she embodies a multitude of characteristics adding to her likeability and credibility as a character. She is fragile, she is lost, she is determined but most of all, she is human. She undertakes a hike of over a thousand kilometres with no experience of hiking and absolutely no idea what she is doing, in a quest to heal the wounds of her past. It is a long, hard and literal road to self-discovery.
Along this road, she is greeted with kindness, hospitality and friendship as she encounters a number of amicable characters who seek to help her on her journey. She also shares with us, however, the incredible loneliness, inconceivable perils as she faces the threat of wild and dangerous animals, exhaustion, hunger, thirst and sexual predators. Strayed is one of the only women attempting the trek and is applauded for both her determination while simultaneously teased for the benefits she receives for being beautiful and the only women endeavouring the trip. She is christened ‘The Queen’ by her fellow trekkers for receiving such attention.
Wild succeeds in highlighting how the hiking sphere is utterly dominated by men so much so that her fellow hikers recognise her solely for being the only woman to write in the trail logs. Throughout the film, Strayed is faced with both obvious and subtle scepticism and often patronised for doing the journey on her own.
At times, the film displays some of the clichéd Hollywood characteristics, such as a reoccurring fox motif, which perhaps symbolises her mother’s spectre haunting her. However, the film was exceptionally emotive, aptly capturing the memoir of Cheryl Strayed in a way that is both organic and subtle. We see a woman battling with the demons of her past, the scars of her history palpable as we see both the sores of her journey and the severe emotional wounds of her past. Vallée and Witherspoon candidly depict this emotional memoir, without making it feel like a didactic tale of triumph over adversity. It is beautiful, it is simple and it’s undoubtedly worth a watch.
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