Monday, January 19, 2015

Film Review: Wild (2015)

Wild begins with Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) resting at the top of a mountain she has just climbed struggling to take off her hiking boots.  Underneath she reveals her painful bloody feet and has to pull off her big toenail that is hanging loose.  The pain from this throws her backwards, which in turn knocks her shoe off of the edge and tauntingly rolls down the mountain.  The exasperated shock and despair then cuts to a flashback of how she got there…

Cheryl Strayed is a poetry student taking three months to undertake a 1,000-mile walk along the pacific west trail, which runs from the Mexican border up to Canada.  During her trip she reflects (through flashbacks) about her relationship with her mother (Laura Dern), her divorce from her husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) whom she repeatedly cheated on, her drug use, as well as a number of empowering female role models she has read and identifies with – of which she leaves quotes of dotted along the trail. 

Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s last film Dallas Buyer’s Club was about a man who is forced out of his comfort zone after contracting a deadly disease.  His new film is about a woman who forces herself out of her comfort zone in response to different tragedies

There is a PHD out there waiting to be written about the moment that middle-class Western twentysomethings began to go ‘travelling’ instead of taking ‘holidays’ – and invariably those who have undertaken a similar ordeal will find moments of empathetic hilarity in Cheryl’s discomforts and tribulations.  But instead of just being a cutesy celebration of independent women ‘finding themselves’ (e.g. Eat Pray Love), it is a thoughtful and proudly feminist meditation on autonomy and self-improvement.  And Witherspoon is perfectly cast as the privileged suburbanite out of her comfort zone…

At one point there is beautiful metaphor when she goes with her friend Aimee (Gaby Hoffman) in the snow to take a pregnancy test at a local pharmacy.  As she finds out the results she storms out and begins to symbolically dig her car out of the snowdrift as Portishead’s Beth Orton sings “I’m just trying to be a woman…” floating over the score.

The film also has a very sweet sense of humour.  At another point in her journey she stops at a campsite and meets a wisened older traveller who helps her prune some of the excess weight from her oversized backpack (nicknamed “The Monster” by another hiker).  As he finds and questions Cheryl’s collection of contraceptives she rhetorically ponders on “what kind of woman goes hiking and brings 12 condoms….”, before tearing one off and slipping it in her shirt pocket as he turns his back.  (Not that many of the men she meets make great first impressions)

Undoubtedly the film will inspire a number of young women (and men) to undertake a similar expedition, which given the beauty of the locations is clearly understandable.  But simply watching her journey can teach you a humble lesson about reflecting on grief and regrets and the rewards of being ambitious.  Whether Cheryl is escaping into the external Wild of nature, or escaping from the internal Wild of her past, her trip is a fascinating and dreamy one that’ll probably make you want to quit your day job…

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