I’m a fan of American poetry. I’m a fan of nature. I’m a big fan of poetry and nature together. But I’m not sure I’m a fan of Wild. Now don’t run away because I’m not conforming to the mob’s opinion; Reese Witherspoon does a great job in the role of Cheryl, but I feel like she only shines because the situation demands it. Her character tells a story of endurance, faith, loss, and harmony, but the weird thing is, Wild has no ups or downs. The story is told in one steady stream of emotion, with the small successes placed on the same emotional level as the setbacks. You don’t feel relief when she finally sets up her tent, or exhaustion when it rains, rains, and rains. There’s probably a deep philosophical meaning in here somewhere about taking the good with the bad and finding personal happiness in the swirly mix of yin and yang. Or maybe the twisty, endless trail is a symbol of Cheryl’s inner struggle and a representation of her life at a crossroads, projecting her denial of supressed emotional conflict onto the nature around her (etc. etc. psychological mumbo jumbo, etc.). As Cheryl embraces the flow of the forest she also embraces her memories and tries to pull meaning from them as you would try to decipher a poem: line by line with patience and the clarity of experience.
Most of the screen time is reserved for Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon), her camping equipment, and her nightmares. Unlike her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), Cheryl has a hard time holding onto a smile. And for good reason. Over the course of the film her memories are revealed to us one by one as she relives them, trying to find the moment when everything went from bad to catastrophic. She decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (America’s version of Middle Earth) to rid herself of regret, pain, and heartbreak, gradually leaving little pieces of her past behind with each new step. There is very little human-to-human interaction in Wild, which makes it a very self-reflective film and sort of like 127 Hours on PMS. Would you still like yourself after walking 1,100 miles? Would you like yourself even more? What little human interaction there is feels conveniently planned as if some divine intervention were at play. The folks Cheryl meets while all alone in the wilderness, however, are for the most part unexpectedly harmless and wise, save perhaps for the cliché hunters with their beer cans, archery gear, and vile intensions.
To be plain, I couldn’t do what Cheryl does. Heck, I gave up trying to follow the trail on Google Maps. The real issue is I hate camping. The bugs, the cold, the thirst, the midnight rustling in the bushes, the pooping in the woods – all of it. There are moments when I get the feeling Cheryl hates it all too. For a movie about walking, she hitchhikes an awful lot. The rare conversations in cars and with passersby show us the armour Cheryl has built around herself after years of emotional trauma; but thanks to first-person narration we are invited to dig deeper into the depths of her darkest memories. It’s here that we learn about her troubled life and tragic past, and Witherspoon does a great job of animating the voice overs. It is definitely her best role to date, and sparks a new path for her career. For the most part, Wild is about a tired girl who walks, climbs, overcomes personal and environmental obstacles, tackles the dangers of human-to-human contact and the terrors of knowing oneself, and walks some more, literally and metaphorically on a constant uphill incline.
Unlike 127 Hours, Cheryl trades a prison between a rock and a harder rock for a prison of memories and denial. Really, in trying to sum up Wild, I’m a bit lost for words. It’s just… it’s just… It’s… just. The scenery is beautiful, making you feel the damp and taste the dry, but the story has very little push and pull. There is a constant drive to go a little further and there are little moments that slowly piece a broken soul back together, but there is nothing terribly exciting and no moment that screams survival or epiphany. Is it nature that is Wild? A Wild spirit within? A Wild past that needs to be tamed? Like a gentle stream, the plot carried me along to an inevitable ending, with very few rapids or waterfalls along the way. But still always uphill. 6.5/10.