By her twenties, Cheryl Strayed had made a mess of her life. She never got over the death of her mother. The grief led her to make dangerous choices; drug abuse, sex with strangers, even though she was married. When she hit bottom, she was pregnant, with only an idea of who the father was. That was when she saw a travel guide about the Pacific Crest Trail on a rack in a drug store. This is a hiking trail that goes from the Mexican border to Oregon, over a thousand miles. Some instinct told her that this was what she needed to do, even though she wasn’t a particularly fit or outdoorsy person.
Reese Witherspoon gives a courageous performance as Cheryl Strayed. She is smart and educated but stubbornly wallowing in her grief. She can see it’s destroying her but she can’t stop. Witherspoon captures those contradictory emotions, perfectly. You can also see her grow as she progresses along the trail. At first she’s hopeless. She has way too much stuff and her pack is too heavy and her boots too tight. With help she deals with these situations and more and gradually finds her stride. As the miles rack up, the other hikers she meets—these are rock hard outdoors people, deeply experienced and in athletic shape—give her respect and acceptance. And eventually she gives herself the same.
The script is by Nick Hornby, from Strayed’s memoir. Hornby uses the trip as a frame story to depict Strayed ‘s life. The events jump back and forth in time, not following any kind of chronological order, but are depicted as memories, popping up as she experiences something that reminds her. At first it’s a little hard to get into, because the main character has a lot of rough edges that make sympathizing with her difficult. Also the flashbacks are mere snippets, not fully developed scenes and it takes a while for them to coalesce into a satisfactory whole. When they do, however, the impact is pretty strong.
Wild is a moving emotional experience in the end.


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