The Film: Wild
What’s It About? With the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed has lost all hope. After years of reckless, destructive behavior, she makes a rash decision. With absolutely no experience, driven only by sheer determination, Cheryl hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddens, strengthen, and ultimately heals her.
Number of Oscar Nominations: 2
Will It Win? No. Laura Dern was a surprise nominee in the Best Supporting Actress category (there were several other actresses I would like to have seen in the mix), and she’s a long shot, a really long shot. Patricia Arquette is going to win on Sunday. That’s a guarantee. Reese Witherspoon deserves her nomination for Best Actress for her performance, but she doesn’t stand a chance. This is Julianne Moore’s year.
I really wasn’t expecting much from Wild. I knew it was about a woman who has gone through a lot on her life who decides to go on a hiking journey and find herself, and I was thinking ‘Oh shit, it’s going to be all Eat, Pray, Love.” Thankfully, it isn’t. If anything, it’s closer to Into the Wild.
Cheryl Strayed (the name is perfect) decides to hike a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail following her divorce and the death of her mother, Bobbi. Which sounds like a great idea, except that Cheryl has no idea what she’s doing. She is woefully unprepared for the trip. She packs too much, and too much of the wrong stuff. She’s wearing boots that are too small for her. She has the wrong kind of fuel for her campstove.
But she’s determined not to quit. So she trudges on, recording her (failrly banal) thoughts in her notebook and quoting poetry in the guestbook at each pit-stop. There is a lot of Adrienne Rich and Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost in this movie, and a lot of journalling. If Oprah went hiking, it might be this movie.
Although she hikes alone and is under seeming constant threat of rape, she also encounters a lot of help (the Pacific Trail Highway is apparently populated with a community of scruffy, like-minded spirits who share food and camping tips). Very few women hike the PCT alone; Cheryl soon becomes something of a legend among other hikers.
Wild isn’t a bad film It’s actually rather good – it’s just not quite good enough. Witherspoon is very good in the role of a grief-stricken woman who has made a mess of her life (lots of drugs, lots of men, little direction), and one of the film’s strengths is that although she heals and finds inner peace and whatnot, she remains unrepentant about her choices. “What if I wanted to sleep with every single one of those men? What if heroin taught me something?”
It’s the sort of role that a pretty movie star loves the chance to do: she gets to be gritty and get naked, and spends much of the film alone, with only the beauty of nature to act against. So we see her struggle through the snow, wade across a river, deal with a rattlesnake, and other standard alone-in-the-woods scenes. But we also see her in her life before the hike: her marriage, doing drugs, sleeping with as many people as she can (occasionally two at a time).
The film is hampered, however, by its structure (a lot of muddled flashbacks to various moments in Cheryl’s scattershot life) and overuse of narration. It’s also a bit heavy-handed in its symbolism – oh, look, a fox that follows her, then disappears, then reappears again, you know, like a spirit animal or the ghost of her mom, man.
Verdict: Three Scenic Lookouts out of Five
Things I Learned While Watching Wild:
- When you’re an attractive woman who meets a grizzled, oafish farmer who invites you back to his place for a meal and a shower, don’t assume he wants to fuck you. He might really just be a nice guy.
- There’s actually a thing called The Hobo Times.
- You can hike a thousand miles in shorts, not wearing a hat or sunglasses, and be as pale at the end of it as when you started.