Wild Review – A Rugged, Tormenting, and Ultimately Beautiful Journey

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"Wild," from Fox Searchlight Films, brings to the screen the adaptation of the New York Times bestselling novel based on the intensely personal, vividly alarming and heart wrenching encounters of inexperienced Pacific Coast Trail hiker Cheryl Strayed.


Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and starring Reese Witherspoon, "Wild," also stars Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman, Kevin Rankin, W. Earl Brown, Mo McRae and Keene McRae. "Wild" is adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby from the book "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail" written by Cheryl Strayed.

"Wild" opens on the mountain with a beautiful view of the Pacific Northwest, lush mountains, stunning scenery and Cheryl Strayed, played with abandon by Reese Witherspoon, peeling her bloody sock from her foot as her toe nail is falling off and there is only one solution.  

Ms. Witherspoon tackles the challenges of this role with surprising dedication. Strayed experienced an emotional breakdown brought on by the death of her mother and with that spiraled into an abyss of excessive drug use and sexual encounters with more men than she can remember.

Her self-destructive, and uncontrollable behavior cost her dearly, her marriage, an unborn child fathered from a nameless, faceless, meaningless encounter, which was presumably aborted, a miscarriage would have been in some way depicted.

She is hurling down the highway of death without brakes and any power over her out of control life, self destruction has taken over, and driving her. Heroin, heroin, and more heroin, as she beings by snorting and adamantly explaining she would never shoot up, which of course she does and finally her husband, Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski, shows up and with love rescues her from the junkie, dirt infested, filth hell.

Strayed, moved by poetry, passion and a genuine love of her mother and family, even with the less than idyllic beginnings the gestation of her walk, begins in the store where her pregnancy is confirmed.

It was a moment of divine intervention, at the deepest moment of despair she sees a book in the store that so moved her, she casually picks it up and instantly puts it back on the shelf, and the film plays the scene with an "in my mind's eye" almost super imposing a vision of a backpacking hiker with a knowing there were now only two choices.

She begins her walk in the Mojave Desert on a fluke, hiking the rugged terrain of the Pacific Crest Trail, has said it was as if the seed of life reached out to her and pulled her to a place where she couldn't, no matter how hard, she tried screw it up. She was left to wit, will, determination and self preservation.

The walk was supposed to cover 20miles a day, 1100miles, sure no problem. Ha! Feet squeezed into too small boots, right equipment, wrong accessories, over-packing for the on the off chance encounter or the maybe's added 50 extra pounds of garbage the physical remnants of the mental anguish, Strayed carried her personal albatross.  One doesn't need to even add any of the other issues as sore feet on an 1100 miles walk is enough.

"Wild" depicts the fears, stumbles, pitfalls, and honestly as she becomes mentally clearer mental not every whispering on the wind is the axe murder hiding behind the cactus to end it all. She does run into a rattlesnake, a fox that seems to attach himself to her, others expected natural wilderness obstacles.

The Pacific Coast Trail has registry points, simple notebooks for travelers to mark their passage, and at each point Ms. Strayed enters a verse or line from a well known poet that becomes her calling card and delivers a level of trail fame as the path becomes more treacherous and the hikers meet up at checkpoints.

She doesn't deny her passage into the buried concealed wounds any longer as was read in the beginning as they are the place of her passion.  

The poem "Power" by Adrianne Rich is read in the beginning and becomes the underlying healing balm as Strayed walks, alone, only with her mind, the hurts, loneliness, devastations, memories, through the emotional wilderness, the place where the wheat is sifted and while the severely and incapacitating wounds of the past are there to deny them as the poem goes would be to seal or stunt the source of her power. 

Responding to the moment of divine intervention, when there were only two choices leads to the new life, the arch of Ms. Strayed's story which brought her, clawing over the emotional mountains from the abyss of death.

"Wild" is powerfully depicted, a story of overcoming, not only the odds but coming to terms with life's daunting emotional pathways that sometimes jackknife our plans.

The duality of the external beautiful wilderness and the internal emotional wilderness, where both character's Cheryl and her mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern find themselves is acutely portrayed.

Bobbi, at 45, is returning to college and as she says, just beginning to live. By 40, she had raised two Cheryl and Leif played by Keene McRae, children that she loved, and loved her. It is clear, she loved and was loved. At 45, just when her life was beginning anew when tragedy stole it

Dern gives a deeply memorable performance without glossing over the abuse, that Strayed, doesn't deny either. Her performance was moving. It will clearly land her critical acclaim. Dern's scenes are impacting, memorable and genuinely emotional.

Both Ms. Witherspoon and Laura Dern are surprising in roles that are the polar opposite of the usual type cast the audience is accustomed to seeing or at least remembering.

Gaby Hoffman gives a stand out performance as Cheryl's best friend, Aimee, as the film opens.

"Wild" is not simply a woman's journey from a broken down unfulfilling life to freedom. Ms. Strayed in end isn't magically transformed, although transformed and changed, she is penniless, and free. She is elite in her accomplishments and unskilled in the real world, an even more rugged terrain.  Freedom was costly and the outcome well worth it.

Cheryl Strayed and her family all responded to the moments, the forks in the road, that create the arch's in life, the visible moment of knowing if one hadn't chosen the path then the outcome would have been disastrous.

 "Wild," a must see, is certain to be around during awards season.

"Wild," after a year of film festival appearances, opens in select cities, December 5, 2014.

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