The true story Wild opens with the protagonist Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) off-screen, panting in pain. She takes off her hiking boot to find her sock stained red: her toenail is hanging off. As we witness the horrific moment she rips it off her blistered foot, her boot tumbles down the cliff. In a fit of rage, she tosses the second boot down with it, screeching “fuck you, bitch!” The mountainous scenery has been tainted; what was perceived as stunningly beautiful is now threatening and fearful. It’s easy to assume that Wild could be similar to the narcissistic tripe that is Eat, Pray, Love, an exploration of the struggles of a white, middle class woman escaping her life at home. Thankfully, Wild is nothing at all like that.
The film interweaves different moments of Cheryl’s life around the framework of a 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, an arduous journey which will take her 94 days to complete. Many scenes explore her relationship with her Mother, Bobbi, played by the fantastic Laura Dern. After escaping an abusive relationship with Cheryl’s alcoholic father, the two, along with Cheryl’s brother Leif (Keene McRae), attempt to pick up the very few pieces that remain. With mother and daughter attending the same high school with very little money, Bobbi attempts to remain optimistic anger and confuse Cheryl, who feels like their lives have no hope or direction. Ultimately, the film is an insight into how individuals cope with loss and grief, and how regret and self-destruction can play into this.
Thankfully, Wild is nothing like Eat, Pray Love.
Like in other works by Québécois director Jean-Marc Vallée, the cinematography is brilliant. Many quick and intimate shots interject the main scenes, highlighting a moment of joy or sadness in the past. These shots are then repeated later on in the film, and their significance is much clearer. Vallée’s brilliant directorial style is emerging very clearly, similar in filming to Dallas Buyers Club and the exceptional Café de Flore. As with his other films, accompanying Wild is a brilliantly atmospheric soundtrack, featuring the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Portishead and Lucinda Williams.
Oscar-nominated Witherspoon escapes into the role perfectly. This is a much darker character than most of her other performances, and at times we forget that it’s her. We become her companion, watching her silent contemplation or internal monologue, undergoing an incredibly burdensome experience. The scenes in which she encounters characters give the audience an immense relief which we share with Cheryl, as most characters express a kindness which inspires her and the audience to continue. An instance in which certain characters are threatening escalate the tension unbearably, as her vulnerability is exposed in the vast wilderness.
Wild cannot be recommended enough. Jean-Marc Vallée has yet again created a brilliant character study, examining great struggles and how these are overcome through perseverance and the inspiration of others.
Images: Fox Searchlight Pictures