Movie review: ‘Wild’
Directed By Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Michiel Huisman, Thomas Sadoski, Kevin Rankin, W. Earl Brown, Mo McRae, Keene McRae
Rated R, Drama, 119 minutes
Literally walking off her emotional injuries in “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed courageously, and somewhat foolishly, elects to take on the challenging Pacific Coast Trail. Her journey, symbolizing feisty Americans and the solo walk belonging to us all, is filled with peril, wonder and, most of all, determination.
Portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, Strayed is a writer-in-thinking, turning to Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and other revered authors for reflection and inspiration. Still reeling from the untimely death of her mother (played by Laura Dern) four years earlier, Strayed’s subsequent heroin abuse and the failure of her marriage have left her in search of a reboot. She settles on the hike as her new beginning.
Along the way Cheryl reflects upon the series of events that have brought her to this juncture. Can she be the woman of her mother’s fondest wish — sophisticated in thought and kind and generous of spirit — or will she remain angry, bitter and self-destructive?
The answers can’t easily be found because Strayed doesn’t know precisely who she wishes to become. She does want to feel better, but that’s a dicey proposition considering the self-centered way in which her anger prevented her from comforting her younger brother (Keene McRae). Instead she turned to drugs and sex with so many random men that her long-suffering husband (Thomas Sadoski) finally threw in the towel.
The huge backpack Cheryl struggles to shoulder is symbolic of the baggage she carries within. Some of that pain is relieved by the extraordinary beauty that surrounds her and by the necessity of humbling herself to various natural features and strangers, who she meets between pit stops where hikers receive provisions.
Eventually Cheryl begins to understand that being both vulnerable and humble are as important to her overall well-being as the strength she depends on to hold her together.
Based on Strayed’s best-selling memoir, “Wild” takes place in 1995, before cell phones and GPS. She isn’t necessarily likeable, but, from Witherspoon’s insightful portrayal, we realize Strayed is a complicated person worth understanding — a process requiring the entire 1,000 miles to approximate. Finally and appropriately, Cheryl’s sojourn provides an opportunity for each of us to consider our own life’s journey.