Friend and I saw Wild at Classic Elsternwick, in the tiniest cinema I’ve ever been to – it felt more like a private screening room. I’ll admit, when I first heard of this movie I wasn’t very interested. I haven’t liked Reese Witherspoon in anything since Walk the Line, which was 10 years ago (holy crap time runs fast), and perhaps her role choices coloured my view so I half-expected this movie to be on the sappy, glossy side. Then I got swayed by the excellent reviews, and the movie proved my preconceived ideas very very wrong with its opening scene, in which Witherspoon’s character pulls off her bloodied sock and tears off her black, bloody toenail, then loses one of her hiking boots as it tumbles down the rocks and throws her remaining boot after it while swearing her head off. Eat Pray Love it was not.
The film is based on the real story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail trail alone, inexperienced and completely underprepared. When she first starts out, she buys the wrong kind of fuel so she can’t cook, her backpack is so heavy she can barely lift it, her hiking boots are way too small. She makes this decision at the lowest point in her life, after the death of her mother (Laura Dern, who’s never been more radiant and appealing onscreen), dissolution of her marriage and a period of destructive behaviour and drug abuse. So, early on Cheryl is a rather messed up person and often an unlikeable one, for instance in the flashback where younger Cheryl casually remarks to her mother how strange it must be to have a daughter who at her age is already more sophisticated than she is. Weirdly enough, I like Reese Witherspoon much more when she’s playing difficult characters like Cheryl or Tracy Flick in Election, than when she’s trying to be a rom-com sweetheart. Her natural look of determination works really well in this role and there’s not a trace of gloss in her appearance or the gritty performance.
The trail Cheryl walks runs from the USA border with Mexico all the way up to the US-Canada border. I haven’t been to those exact places when I travelled the national parks of the West Coast, but the starkly beautiful scenery in the film really brought back the memories of the vast, open spaces, the silence and the sheer indifference of nature, the way your tiny tent becomes a hub of light and safety. Cheryl meets a few people on her way; mostly decent ones except for one tense encounter with a pair of hunters which made my skin crawl and which you feel could have ended very badly.
The only thing about the movie that rubbed me wrong was the reoccurring fox, or foxes, who cross paths with Cheryl often enough throughout the movie to signify something obviously important and symbolic. I haven’t read the book so for all I know real-life Cheryl might well have seen the fox darting around, but to me it struck a false note in a movie where everything else felt very natural and raw.
Pet moviegoing peeve: the guy sitting next to me was one of those people who chuckle at everything they see onscreen, even things which are not actually funny. Arghhh.
I don’t exactly want to repeat Cheryl’s experience and hike a thousand miles or anything, but the movie reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve been out in wild places and how much I’d like to visit them again.