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Written by: Nick Hornby
Based on the book: “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
Starring: Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern
I made the inherent mistake of being intrigued by the premise of the story of ‘Wild’ leading me to read the book before seeing the movie. I am an avid hiker; not an experienced 1,100 mile hiker, but I love making hiking a focal point of all my vacations. I also enjoy hiking alone and as a woman, many people question my common sense in doing so. Learning that “Wild” is all about a female hiking an 1,100 mile journey alone along the Pacific Crest Trail, I knew I had to read this book. It didn’t matter that I already knew Reese Witherspoon was going to be cast as the lead role in the film. I went along with her image in my head as well as Laura Dern’s face as Cheryl’s mother as I read this captivating book. Unfortunately, as is the case in most films, the book was far superior to the film.
Based on the true story about Cheryl Strayed, the book version of “Wild” allows you not only to peek into the disturbing childhood of Cheryl, but actually allows you to feel and in some ways share her pain and sorrow in her upbringing. We feel the connection she has with her loving and giving mother. We understand her decisions even when we don’t agree with them. The reader connects with her on many levels as she pours her heart and soul out to you. It’s a raw and honest story with no rose colored glasses with which to view Cheryl’s sordid life. Not many could truly look at their past objectively and share it with millions. The book captures her struggle to survive, make sense out of pain, and to grow into the person she has the potential to be. The film, again unfortunately, misses the target on all of the powerful points.
The film does capture the very beginning of the book as Cheryl is hurling her unmated hiking boot over the mountain to rejoin the other pain-inducing boot at the
bottom. There is a major detour in the accuracy of portrayal after this point, however. The story then quickly backtracks to the beginning of her hike. We slowly watch her struggle with her immense back-pack, almost outweighing Cheryl, as she signs in at the trailhead of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Much further into the film after almost losing interest, we begin to see flashbacks into her life, allowing us to try to fit the pieces of the puzzle together as to why Cheryl is taking this hike. She is troubled, but the depth of her troubles is only portrayed in a cursory style. They are just broad brushstrokes, but what is needed is pointillism. As she hikes further along the trail, she encounters a few bumps in the road, but these bumps appeared gentle in the film in contrast to the life-threatening and emotionally harrowing ones portrayed in the book. The characters she encounters are one-dimensional and uninteresting. The relationships and interactions she has along the trail allow Cheryl to develop, but the film completely misses this aspect. Her time alone is just as important as her interactions with those wonderfully giving and positive souls you meet whi
le hiking. Many attributes and actual characters are completely omitted which leaves the audience missing the main message.
It is obvious that Witherspoon has read the book. Her subtle looks and expressions captured what Cheryl had written. Unfortunately, unless you had read the book, you couldn’t possibly understand the depth of her expression. There just wasn’t enough back-story for the viewer to completely grasp the intensity of Cheryl’s story. In addition, the PCT is an amazing trail which explores its way through many topographical zones. From the desert to an arid forest and
everything in between, the film has the potential to capture nature’s beauty. It does not. Unless you are carefully watching for the spectacularly beautiful and awe-inspiring Crater Lake, you will miss it. Another missing element is the connection between nature and humanity .
I have learned my lesson: Do not read the book before the movie. It is nearly impossible to assess a film’s merits if the book is substantially better than the film, which in most cases it is. This film misses the mark. The screenwriters had the screenplay right in front of them in book form. Why didn’t they use it? Witherspoon is a talented actor who appears as if she grasps the character she is portraying, but the direction and writing didn’t allow her to utilize this talent and knowledge.
“Wild” is a complete disappointment. It left me empty. I felt that it didn’t begin to convey the beautiful life lessons and messages the book so wonderfully gave us. So go buy the book, read it, then pick out a trail to hike. I’ll be hitting Crater Lake this summer. Where will you be inspired to go?