Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cinematographer: Yves Belanger
by Jon Cvack
This movie has tragically fallen way under the radar. It's hands down one of the all time great feminist films, documenting author Cheryl Strayed’s journey up the Pacific Crest Trail after falling into heavy drug addiction, cheating on her husband, and becoming pregnant with another man's baby. Like any long hike, the movie is about Cheryl’s meditation on the events leading up to this point. I typically think the flashback intercuts are played out and don’t really work, but Wild does an amazing job exploring the relationship to her mother, an abusive step father, her descent into addiction, her love of literature, and the need to transform herself; leaving the viewer to piece together the story in fragments and arrive at their own insights. There is nothing extraordinary all that extraordinary about the hike so much as the events leading up to it.
Right or wrong, men are not exactly portrayed as good in this film and illustrates how a rotten few can contribute to extreme caution with the decent many. There’s a farmer who Cheryl believes is going to assault her, only to invite her home and provide a home cooked meal; there are two rednecks who are overly interested in Cheryl’s solitude; Cheryl's former husband who seems to have been unable to understand or forgive her addiction and promiscuity; a man who does interviews on homeless people and refuses to listen to her pleas that she isn’t homeless; three bros, fresh out of college, on spring break who struggle to have anything beyond a superficial conversation; a disgusting park ranger who makes an aggressive pass; the man she met on the trip who she’s interested in possibly sleeping with; and the man she meets in Portland who she actually does sleep with and leaves in the middle of the night. By the end, Wild does an incredible job of placing us within a woman's mind and how she sees the world. Cheryl is a flawed and wounded character, with beautiful insights into the world, having developed a caution that only hitting rock bottom can demand. She isn't portrayed as an immaculate Hero, but rather a real human being.
I imagine her journey is an inspiration to anyone that's feeling a desire for change. Who hasn't woken up on certain days, hungry to go off on a journey of self-discovery? The way Cheryl reflects on her past and the way it’s portrayed is fascinating. Like most painful moments in our past, the memories come in blasts. There is no linear pattern. All we can do is piece the images together and try to figure out what went wrong and why we never understood what was occurring at the time. In a great moment, Cheryl refers to the fact that the solitude has forced her to meditate on a lot of issues, but she was still saving one. It was just an exceptionally poignant moment. There are things we try to avoid thinking about too extensively until the right moment when we're prepared to enter into a deep reflection on what it all meant.
I often wondered how deep I would go in such a journey. What would I learn or remember and how would it change me? I was talking to a friend who has taken cross country motorcycle trips. He mentioned how eight hour rides with no radio or music forces you to start reflecting on memories with very minute detail. He would try and break it down between years, and then seasons, and then weeks, and then days, perhaps even minutes. Your mind can do nothing but think, forcing you go as deep as possible. Cheryl seems to do exactly this. It was a joy to join her. It's a tragedy that this film received so little attention.
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