“I didn’t feel sad or happy. I didn’t feel proud or ashamed. I only felt that in spite of all the things I’d done wrong, in getting myself here, I’d done right”.
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on Pacific Crest Trail.
Wild (2014, dir. Jean-Marc Vallée) is a story of the redemptive power of the road. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name, The Pacific Crest Trail in all of its 1100 miles is a physical and psychological challenge for our heroine, forcing her out of destructive behaviour and grief into a more focused and considered mindset.
Told through the linear narrative of Cheryl’s (Reese Witherspoon) trek with fragmented flashbacks along the way, Wild never gives the viewer a full snapshot of her past. While at times this can be frustrating, her trauma never fully being explored on screen, Vallée’s nuanced approach to storytelling is ultimately highly effective in its psychological realism. We hear Cheryl’s inner monologue on the trail in the form of half-thoughts, fragmented distress and frustrated outcries. Following the meandering course of her thoughts we are led into impulsive flashbacks and immersed in music.
Witherspoon is brilliant as Cheryl Strayed. Acknowledging herself that Cheryl is her most difficult role, her performance feels earthy and honest with real emotional depth. It was also refreshing to see an ‘epic journey’ film with such an identifiable heroine. Cheryl faces real struggles and is woefully underprepared for the harsh realities of the The Pacific Crest Trail, at one point throwing away her walking boots in a fit of rage and walking the rest of that leg in taped up flip flops.
The incredible landscapes portrayed in Wild are shot with real panache by Vallée. Making use of the long angle lens, he frames Cheryl dwarfed by the world around her, reminding us of her vulnerability and the extreme isolation of the trail she has chosen. Indeed the biggest dangers faced by Cheryl come from fellow human beings. There are several incredibly tense moments where she finds herself vulnerable to men in the wilderness, highlighting her weaknesses as a woman travelling alone through such a lonely area.
But ultimately Wild is a story of female empowerment. Leaving behind her old life and old relationships, Cheryl strikes out on her own to discover something about herself and reconnect with her identity long ago eroded in connection with others. While at times I felt it hard to connect with Cheryl as much as Vallée intends us to, perhaps down to the fragmented nature of the storytelling, Witherspoon’s portrayal is highly empathetic and moving. An inspirational tale of self-discovery and adventure, Wild is a must see.
Catch Wild at Phoenix from Fri 13 – Thu 19 Feb