Monday, December 15, 2014

Wild (2014)

by Kelsey Barritt, Writing Intern        

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Wild brings new meaning to the phrase “walk it off.” Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the film documents a period in the true life of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), a lost soul wandering with a purpose. Constantly capturing brutal angst, tension and inescapable misery, Wild also portrays hope and the potential beauty of travelling the wrong path--a few times.

After the devastating loss of her mother, the deterioration of her marriage, and the downward spiral that became her life, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie begins at what could be considered Cheryl’s most discouraging moment. At the peak of a mountain, she loses her shoe and appears just about hopeless. From there, countless trials and triumphs, from the hike and Cheryl’s previous life play out. Flashbacks, and a fascinating inner monologue, contribute to an understanding of Cheryl’s need to escape from her life and herself.  

Each flashback evokes anxiety. Obviously, bad things happen--repetitively. Cheryl’s early home life is exceptionally rough. Self-destructive is a polite way of describing her behavior as an adult. Audiences are left to guess how and why certain events occur, because of the way Vallée staggers the past and present. Most things are made clear as the movie progresses, but the guessing game continues in many areas. I may never understand Cheryl’s relationship with her brother, based on the film alone. It may be unfair to expect everything to be perfectly tied up by the end of a movie like this, but an update would be nice.

With the exception of unnecessary loose ends and a bit of confusion, Wild perfectly portrays a woman desperately looking to grow up, and transform from nail to hammer. Witherspoon wonderfully represents Cheryl, from grief to divorce to losing toenails. A practical parade of creepy men along the hike does not help in easing her mind. And what really sinks hearts, throughout the film, are the depictions of Cheryl’s relationships. We see her strive to be more like the love of her life, her mother, who goes through the same struggles as Cheryl. But she sees them as important stepping-stones to obtaining her difficult yet beautiful life. We see Cheryl detach from her seemingly loving husband, and cling to meaningless sex and drugs as a sort of distraction. Audiences disapprove of Cheryl’s coping methods, but connect to the genuine hurt in her heart.

The movie offers two ways of looking at sorrow and dysfunction: dwelling and embracing. Cheryl often chooses dwelling, which actually seems valid most of the time. It would be difficult to blame Cheryl for her everlasting heartache. Embracing, the better way, is proven to be much more challenging. While her mother did it with ease, Cheryl must learn to not think of her downfalls as regrets, but vital events leading to future successes. A journey of 1,000 miles is a combination of single steps; life is the result of infinite small occurrences and seemingly meaningless choices. Cheryl wraps her head around this--in a very literal way.

Overall, Wild is a transcendental journey that goes deep into the especially dark moments in life, and the drastic ways in which people cope. It offers a unique perspective and challenges audiences to theorize about life as a whole. Wild shows that it is never too late for a coming-of-age story. There is always time to become your ideal self; sometimes it takes walking a thousand miles.         


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