Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment: 3
MTRCB rating: R 16
CINEMA rating: V 18
Wild is the story of Cheryl Strayed, based on her best-selling memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Reese Witherspoon (of Legally Blonde fame) brings her to life as one who “had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild.” Devastated by her mother Bobbi’s (Laura Dern) untimely death due to cancer, Cheryl spirals into self-destructive behavior (read infidelity, carefree sex, drugs, an abortion), and divorces her loving husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski). Coming to her senses, she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail in order to find, in her own words: “the lost vision of the woman my mom raised me to be.”
Strayed takes us with her on the 1,100-mile-journey (from the California-Mexico border to Canada) as she struggles to carry a humongous backpack, Monster, faces all types of danger from animals, the changing seasons, the rugged terrain, hunger, and other hikers. Through impressive cinematography Wild does not present a woman-against-nature journey. Instead it shows the terror of a solo woman hiker for 94 days: taking one step after another in the most gruelling trek, facing one’s demons, accepting one’s savage nature and finding one’s place in the wilderness of our complex world. We see an amateur Strayed struggling with her pack, her boots, her lack of food and just about everything, but she never gives up in spite of her fears. Slowly, her past life unravels through well-placed flashbacks. Witherspoon, sans hairdo and makeup, captivates in her gritty performance, thanks to Jean-Marc Vallee’s direction. Laura Dern authors Bobbi’s all-encompassing love and optimism with passion and joie de vivre. The music adds to the adventure, and although there’s more to be desired in the conclusion, the entire movie effectively shows Strayed’s monumental journey.
Wild is the story of a woman who literally walks out of her life, takes even a new name, and journeys into the unknown, totally unprepared and afraid. It shows how complicated life is for a woman and how she must find a way around it. Confronting the wounds of the past, she understands what it means to be human, to love, to grieve, to struggle, and to forgive. And although she experiences the graciousness and decency of people along the way, aside from a threatening few, what saves Strayed is not money, her parents, someone or something. With dogged determination she undergoes both a physical and spiritual odyssey replete with sacrifices and pain, and discovers the beauty in the wild places of her life. In Christian terms, Strayed went on a pilgrimage, not so much to an external holy site, but to the wilderness of her soul and listened to her heart. And somehow she finds peace as she reaches “The Bridge of the Gods.”
Wild is a powerful movie that invites the viewer to honestly look inside his/her own life. We wander, we lose our way, we make mistakes and we suffer, regretting many of the choices we make. The movie shows that the wild places belong to all of us and life’s greatest secret is having the courage to find the best you can be.