Wild goes off the beaten track

“What have if I done?” Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) asks herself as she takes the first steps of a 4000 kilometer walk. “You can quit anytime,” she says, as the highway behind her disappears and she walks into the desert.

Wild is a biographical drama based on Cheryl’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, in which she decides to embark on a massive, solidarity journey, to try and find what she has lost. It is a three month journey, from the Mexican border to Canada.

Throughout her journey, the film flashes back to her past, the events that got her to where she is. The death of her mother from cancer at 45. Her spiral into drugs and random sex in dingy motel rooms. Her divorce. As her self-destruction escalates, she realises she needs a way back. After she spots a book on the Pacific Crest Trail in a store, she buys it and decides to hike at least part of the way alone.

Cheryl is ill-prepared though. With her backpack so heavy she can barely stand, and her boots so small she sacrifices a number of toenails, she battles her demons. She sees herself as a child, her mother dancing with her. She relives her drug highs, her fights with her husband as she continued to cheat on him with various strangers. In her darkest hour she throws her boots down a ravine, and screams, a raw animal cry that echoes across the landscape. But she continues, obeying her entry in the trail register: “If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve,” a quote from Emily Dickinson. She forges on, meeting some on the way who help her, but ultimately it’s up to Cheryl to walk herself back to the woman her mother thought she was.

Reese Witherspoon shows that she’s back on track after her career stumbled when she won the Best Actress Oscar for her excellent performance in Walk the Line in 2005. She was nominated for an Oscar in the best actress category for Wild, and deserved to be there.

The script is written by Nick Hornby of About a Boy and Hi Fidelity fame, and it shows in the glimmers of humour and irony in Cheryl’s journey. Director Jean-Marc Vallee makes Witherspoon shine, just like he did Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.

Wild is about an intensely personal and spiritual journey of discovery, of how solitude forces you to confront your failures and triumphs. Above all it is about redemption. “What if I forgive myself. What if I was sorry?” she asks. “But if I can go back in time, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. What if all those things I did were the things that got me here…?”

Rating: 4/5

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski

Local release date: 27 February 2015

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