Almost two years have passed since reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, but the powerful scenes and vivid imagery in Wild have lingered in memory. I eagerly awaited the film adaptation and wondered if 38-year-old Reese Witherspoon could capture all the nuances of a 26-year-old embarking on a journey of self-discovery, or as Cheryl eloquently put it: “Finding the woman my mother thought I was.”
I was not disappointed. In fact, I was riveted by the Oscar-worthy performances of Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who played Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi.
A bit of back story…
After Bobbi died of cancer at age 45, Cheryl’s life took a downward turn. Her wild love for her mother turned into wild sorrow and then she went wild into her life. Hungry for affirmation, she indulged in bouts of sexual promiscuity and drug addiction. Fed up, her husband asked for a divorce. Unhappy and desperate, Cheryl picked up a guidebook about the Pacific Crest Trail and six months later started hiking from the Mojave Desert to Oregon, a distance of over one thousand miles.
Screenwriter Nick Hornby has skillfully adapted this memoir, interspersing Cheryl’s internal thoughts and a series of flashbacks with an adventure tale featuring the highs and lows of this unimaginable solo trek. From the opening scene, we can feel Cheryl’s anguish while removing a septic toenail and watching one of her boots tumble into a ravine. More unnerving episodes follow, among them dealing with extreme temperatures, running out of water, and encountering a rattlesnake.
Early in the film, thoughts of quitting occupy Cheryl’s mind. The backpack—aptly named Monster—provided the first challenge. It was well over half her weight and Cheryl could barely stand up, let alone walk. Her boots were too small and a constant source of pain. Truthfully, I don’t think I could have lasted one day, let alone three months.
Photos of the real Cheryl Strayed in the closing credits add an authentic touch to this larger-than-life film.