Wild (2014) – Jean-Marc Vallée

wild movie poster reese witherspoon

The wilderness brings out some conflicting emotions from me. I’m not someone who likes going outside and I don’t handle bugs or other wildlife well. However, I’ve realized over the last few years that I do really appreciate being out in nature and experiencing the outdoors is becoming more and more a staple of my life. Those conflicting emotions came out in full as I watched Wild, simultaneously longing for the chance to take the journey myself and fearing what would become of me.

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a woman with a lot of baggage. Like, literally (see the above pictures). She takes a considerable amount of time assembling her pack and then figuring out a way to get that pack on her back before finally beginning her solo, over thousand-mile trek up the Pacific Crest Trail. Why she’s attempting this journey alone is unknown as the film begins, but as we gain insight into Cheryl’s life and all the figurative baggage she’s struggling with, the pieces start to come together. The mother she adored (played by Laura Dern) and the ex-husband she betrayed (Thomas Sadoski) are at the forefront here as she tries to work through her myriad issues.

Reese Witherspoon is in just about every scene of the movie and the Oscar-winner’s substantial ability is what allows the pain and turmoil of Cheryl’s past and present to shine through. Witherspoon is just as convincing as a tyro when the trek began as she was as the seasoned outdoorswoman by the end. This isn’t a movie that’s especially deep on plot, but charting Cheryl’s growth as a hiker/survivalist on top of her rehabilitation as a human being is more than sufficiently compelling and Witherspoon deserves to be commended for that.

SPOILERS AHEAD (Select the text between here and the “End of Spoilers” marker to read)

One thing I sincerely appreciated (and hope was part of the true story behind the movie) was that rape didn’t become enter the equation. The threat was certainly front and center a couple times and the tension was palpable those couple times but adding that element (on top of all the turmoil she was already struggling with) would have made this into a different movie. Not that the other stuff she was dealing with was minor or insignificant, but rape understandably becomes the focus when it’s introduced.

END OF SPOILERS

The thought of being alone for days in the wild is a terrifying one and near unfathomable for me… but then add on the troubling realities that come with being a woman in this world? I wouldn’t be able to function. Cheryl Strayed (the real person) is clearly a pretty incredible and tough person. Another note… it was interesting (and ultimately troubling) how Cheryl in the wild had more to fear from men that she ran into than from the assortment of animals she came across. Although, I guess the men who’d qualify as threats would also qualify as animals…

Wild is a consistently engaging voyage (with only a couple of blatant and distracting bits of product placement pulling me out of the experience) through a woman’s life as she tries to navigate through the troubled waters that seem to have plagued her for years. Witherspoon’s portrayal is painfully real and relatable and she carries this story of redemption and perseverance through its 1,100+ mile arc. True to life, not everything during this trek is pleasant or enjoyable, but it’s at the end that we really see what we’re made of (unlike this incredibly trite conclusion).

7.8/10

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