Wild (2014) Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. With Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski and Michiel Huisman.
Adapted by Nick Hornby from a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and directed by Dallas Buyers Club helmer Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild is the emotionally charged story of a young woman’s extraordinary 1,000-mile hike.
As Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherpoon is excellent, capturing the physical and emotional demands of such an arduous undertaking. We’re introduced to Cheryl in a jump-forward scene, that shows her perched atop a rock, treating a bloodied foot – no doubt the result of her non-stop endeavour. It’s a striking introduction that gives us a taste of what is to come.
Jean-Marc Vallée constructs his film using regular flashbacks to Cheryl’s youth and beyond, detailing the events that led to her walk in the wild. Flashbacks can sometimes choke story momentum, but here, they are beautifully adorned around the present, to reveal a portrait of a woman whose personal tragedy echoes with every step of her trek. For Cheryl, the walk isn’t about achieving the miles, it’s about rediscovering herself after being thrust into a destructive spin-cycle of grief.
The weathered Witherspoon is able to portray the toughness, but equally, we’re kept on edge by the certainty of her vulnerability. A woman hiking alone for such a stretch, with an obvious lack of preparation and understanding of the terrain, makes way for a sense of unease as we follow her through the pitfalls of rocks, rattle snakes and the ogling attentions of rapacious male co-hikers that she encounters. Danger is inherent, but Cheryl’s lack of preparedness amplifies it tenfold. This is highlighted early in the film as we witness her making up a sizeable backpack, ahead of her first day of hiking. Seeing her comically attempting to mount it on her back is at once amusing, but gradually turns to a sense of alarm.
Through stirring use of music, flashbacks, narration, and two resonant performances by Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, Wild is a soulful and engaging journey that burrows deep to tell a story about the fragility and strength of the the human spirit, by way of love. 4/5