Does Wild stray off the path?


Movie review of Cheryl Strayed’s movie memoirs

By David Josselyn

True confession – I have not read the book, so this movie review comes from the perspective of knowing nothing about Cheryl Strayed going into the theater. American author Cheryl Strayed novelized her memoirs from 1995 in a book titled “Wild.” In June of 2012, Oprah Winfrey added the title as her first selection of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 which probably first captured the attention of Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon (Legally Blonde, Walk the Line, Monsters vs. Aliens) was beginning production of the movie Big Eyes, but dropped out when she heard Wild was to be turned into a movie. Wild is about the thousand mile trek Cheryl Strayed took along the Pacific Crest Trail and the life events that motivated her to attempt it. Director Jean-Marc Vallee, the man responsible for turning Matthew McConaughey into an Academy Award winner in Dallas Buyers Club, chose to focus on the journey along the trail with the flashbacks remaining in every sense of the word “flash” backs. Most of Cheryl’s backstory is contained in one to five second bursts meant to convey flashes of memory that Strayed experiences during her hike. The movie begins with Strayed roughly half-way through her journey tending to the sores on her feet from hiking in boots too small, before taking viewers back to the beginning of the trail as Strayed prepares for her journey. It soon becomes apparent that Strayed has absolutely no experience backpacking, and maybe none hiking. Every accessory is still in its packaging, her tent could sleep three, she brings regular gasoline to fuel her “white gas only” camp stove, and she is trying to haul a five gallon camelback for water. By all rights, Strayed should have died on the trail; the miracle was the she not only survived, but also completed her journey across California and into Oregon. Strayed would not have made it if it were not for the help of others. Near where the trail crosses a lonely dirt road, Strayed encounters a farmer who offers her a hot meal and a shower (personal hygiene issues seem to be a repeated theme). An elderly man at a waypoint gives Strayed a lesson in what is essential and what she needs to leave behind. With a marketing shout-out, he also mentions that REI will ship a new pair of hiking boots that fit her feet for free to her next waypoint. A group of younger male hikers give her temporary and much needed company. Not everything is rosy, though as she encounters too many men that are lurid, lecherous, or downright scary.

What happens in the present is a personal journey for Strayed to learn something about herself and the chase, or run, from the demons of her past. The flashbacks reveal that from personal tragedy, Strayed abandoned reason, throwing caution to the wind as she dove deeply into drugs, alcohol, and sex. The end of Strayed’s marriage and then discovering she was pregnant and was uncertain about the paternity, was the catalyst for the hike. Strayed at first distracted herself from her problems by intentionally creating a different set of problems, but later finds herself resolving those past issues during her journey. On the other end, it is apparent that Strayed has emerged a more complete person and responsible adult.

The title of the book and movie is Wild which is a reference to Strayed’s wild abandon prior to her journey and of course the wilderness she treks through. Since the focus of the movie is on the journey, there is not much wild about the movie. I feel that the director, Vallee, has done a terrific job capturing the essence and intent of the book. It is not meant to shock you or to get your heart beating faster, but rather to reflect on the events of life and how they can shape you into a better person. “There were no forks in the road for me,” says one character making a reference to having no choices about what life has given him. Strayed picks up on that idea reflecting on how her heroin use and other life events may have changed her ultimately for the better and she would not choose to do things differently.

The movie is rated R and for good reason; it is an adult film. There is a multitude of swearing, although none of it feels like it was thrown in by the screen-writers just to get more uses of the ‘f’ word in a film. There are also plenty of scenes, albeit brief, of naked people, both tasteful and overly sexual. I would not bring my 17 year old daughter to see this film, but I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my own siblings. I have been somewhat conflicted in deciding a rating due to the mature content. This film was very well done, but I can’t help to think that it could have been made just as well while taming down the language and nudity so a wider audience could enjoy it. That being said, I will give Wild a rating of four out of five hobos. Just for fun, my lovely wife gave it a rating of three-and-a-half out of five vixens.

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