New to the Netflix Canada’s film lineup is the highly acclaimed Reese Witherspoon film, Wild, which in a way serves as the female counterpart to the excellent Into the Wild.
The story is about a bright, but very troubled young woman, who suffers after the loss of her mother to cancer. Once her mother dies, Cheryl goes off the rails, ruining her marriage through a number of meaningless sexual encounters, and a dark path towards heroin use.
Needing to clear her head, Cheryl decides that she is going to hike the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most difficult and lengthy trails in the United States. This gives her the chance to think about her life, about her self-destruction, and about the memories of her mother, that will keep pushing her feet forward on the arduous journey.
Wild is an excellent, and calming, film. It is sedate, allowing the viewer to undertake the harrowing journey with Cheryl. It is extremely well directed, and well edited. I will not often notice the editing in the film, but the way the flashbacks to her life are integrated with her journey is seamless, and manages to add realism and drama to her quest.
Pushed by the strong direction, Witherspoon gives a tremendous performance, which is more about her reactions and facial expressions than it is about the minimal dialogue that she mutters. Wild is a film, after all, where she spends the majority of her time on her own, so her dialogue is infrequent. It’s not about the talking, it’s about the walking, and the journey. She was nominated for an Oscar for this performance, and rightfully so. It is subtle, and introspective.
As for the journey itself, it is filled with beautiful scenery and the fact that Cheryl is not an accomplished hiker. She makes many mistakes, including carrying a pack that she can barely lift, the wrong kind of fuel for her stove, and hiking boots that are the wrong size, causing her feet to appear out of a horror movie. We feel bad for her, at times, knowing that she is making a ton of rookie mistakes, but that is a part of it: to learn as she goes, just as it is with the recovery and acceptance of her mother’s death, and the stopping of her downward spiral.
It is quite the transformation to go from a sophisticated scholar, to a girl having heroin injected into her legs, to having sex with multiple men in alleyways, to taking off, alone, on a dangerous hike that has been able to make many experienced hikers call it quits. Her journey is a tough one, but her goal is simple: make it to the end, so that she can start all over again, even if that is a scary proposition.
Wild is a very good film. It is calm, and quiet, and allows us to see and understand the introspection needed by our main character in order for her to simply be okay. Definitely worth watching.