I have to admit, I was rather blown away by Wild.
Reese Witherspoon wandering around in the bush at first did not hold that appeal. I have seen Into the Wild and remembered that film depressed me quite a bit.
Still, the Oscar buzz around this film and a dearth of other material got to me, and as I hadn’t visited the Paramount for a while, I thought it was a good opportunity to go.
And, aforementioned, I was not disappointed.
Witherspoon draws on the real life tale of Cheryl Strayed, a woman plagued by demons and deciding to exorcise them by a multi-month hike up the western United States. Starting in desert, she goes up mountains, along rivers, through bush and trudges through snow. The country side throughout is spectacular, and seeing this alone was enough to make me want to do the trek myself – not that I could handle one evening out there without toilet or shower facilities.
Strayed’s tale is told in flashbacks, showing us glimpses of life with her mother (played by the always luminous Laura Dern) and her husband and friends, and then cutting back to the hard trudge of the tramping life, the monotony of camp food and the solitude of the trail. It’s a tale of ups and downs and, as always, Witherspoon playing a quiet, determined woman is more than capable of holding the whole film together through her solid, strong performance.
More surprising is the way the film also messes with expectations. A young woman alone on the trail would seem to be a target for all sorts of unwanted male attention, and so almost every male that encounters her appears at first to be a predator waiting to pounce It is refreshing and reassuring then that most are honest, decent folks whose perception as potential criminals is purely what the audience puts on them.
And the trip itself is extraordinary: over 3 months of hiking, sometimes lacking for food, water and warmth, the occasional warm meal and “camping ground” for those on the trail, an hilarious encounter with a well meaning journalist who just doesn’t listen, a stop over in hippie heaven in the city of Portland and onwards and ever upwards.
The one off note is an incredibly fake fox that finds our feisty female in the middle of the snow covered mountains, but I later assumed it could have been some kind of hallucination so absolutely awful the sequence, so I am going to stick with that interpretation.
Overall though, the film is gritty and hard but ultimately beautiful and, in its own way, enlightening. Wild doesn’t really seem to refer to the landscape really. The country side just is. Wild seems to refer more to Strayed than anything else, and the wilderness seems to tame her.
Verdict: Witherspoon is amazing in a touching, beautiful tale that takes its time telling Strayed’s story, walking with a slow and steady pace. And the trip through Wild and the destination make it worth the while. 8 Wild Things out of 10.