Step out into the “Wild”

Nothing compares to the smell of Oscar season like the biopic. Amazing tales of usually un-extraordinary  people doing extraordinary things. Sometimes these films serve as a humble reminder of world-changing events, like Selma. They could just be a platform meant to inspire. like The Theory Of Everything. In either case, Hollywood stars line up towards the end of the year to take a shot at portraying one of these people on the big screen. Reese Witherspoon takes her crack at the genre and universally delivers in what is sure to be accepted as the pinnacle of her career so far.

Wild follows the true story of Cheryl Strayed and chronicles her 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. A journey that starts in the Mojave Desert and continues all the way to the Oregon/Washington Border. She takes up this 3 month-long adventure alone, having no backpack hiking experience. Unlike what you may imagine, the journey’s purpose is not supported by a desire for self accomplishment. It is instead a vehicle for which Cheryl chooses to deal with significant grief. It’s a journey of self discovery and most importantly of forgiveness. At age 26, Cheryl is almost a perfect example of the “quarter life” crisis and if self forgiveness is impossible for her, then hopefully acceptance is a good second.

Cheryl’s trek is all about self therapy. A therapy see feels is required after years of self-destructive behavior. Which includes and is not limited too: A divorce from her husband of 7 years, A heroin addiction, reckless sex with strangers, and an abortion from said reckless strangers. With all that, the most devastating tragedy is the lost of her mother 4 years earlier to cancer. Cheryl’s relationship with her mother is the emotional core of this film. While her mother’s death wasn’t the cause of Cheryl’s downward spiral. It was the final shove needed to push her completely over the deep end. We learn about all these things though a series of flashbacks presented through out the film. The flashbacks serve as slow and deliberate means for us to gain insight to Cheryl’s motivations. They serve a strong means for the audience to care about the character mentally. Combine that with the physical demand of the hike and the tole you see it take on Cheryl. The approach is so grounded you can’t help but think Cheryl’s initial motivations for the trip is more about self-torture than self-healing.

Isolation, geographical obstacles and general wear and tear makes the journey seem relentless at times. She isn’t completely alone on her journey, as she frequently comes in contacts with other people along the trail: wise, odd, threatening and surprisingly kind individuals. Their stories, their perspectives become important as they help her make sense of her own experiences. With the hope that one day she can find that acceptance she so desperately hopes to find, needs to find to move forward.

While the film is generally a one woman show for Witherspoon. She does receive a wealth of support from the brief contributions of her co-stars. The most important being that of Laura Dern portraying Cheryl’s mother. Only Appearing in flashback sequences that don’t seem to exceed 20 mins total. Her performance is equally as important to Witherspoon’s. If the connection between Cheryl and her mother doesn’t seem real, the entire movie would fall apart. It’s a very critical piece to the film, the glue keeping it all together. Cheryl’s attachment to her mother, and more importantly her mother’s perception of her, that lets you realize whats really at stake during this trek. Cheryl’s mother had golden perception of her daughter, one born of that unconditional love that mothers often possess. Cheryl’s crisis wasn’t so much rooted in her mistakes as it was not living up the perception of her mother. The grief born from her mothers early death just compounded the issue even further. Her mother passed away believing one thing and Cheryl didn’t see herself that way. One of the most poignant lines in the entire film sums up the entire thing “I’m going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was”.

The film does it’s best to concentrate on the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and acceptance.  There are multiple moments when Reese Witherspoon could have taken this over the top, but instead kept it grounded in a humbling way.  Something I honestly didn’t expect with the moving seemingly being gift wrapped for the Oscar red carpet.  These films can be genuine and ultimately better serve itself and the audience when they are.  The worst of us suffer in silence and Witherspoon honors that sentiment by staying as far away from anything even resembling a soap box.  “How wild it was, to let it be” ~the real Cheryl Strayed



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