wild_1Year: 2014
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writer(s): Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 115 mins

Synopsis: A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe. (Source)

Tragedy is a crippling experience. Wild, based on the inspiring true story of Cheryl Strayed, is about what comes after such a defining moment – it’s about strength through weakness, and the courage to move on after irreversible trauma. Director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby take formulaic structure and elevate it into something richly emotional and cathartic, made irresistible by the conviction of star Reese Witherspoon. The film does right to not sensationalize things too much, instead opting for a very intimate and evocative portrait which speaks volume through restraint. Wild is about who we are at our very core, when stripped from the things and people around us, telling a story that cuts through the noise to define our very will to survive.

After her mother (the self-acknowledged love of her life) passes away, Cheryl Strayed is left in ruins. She copes by retreating into years of drug-addled addition, meaningless affairs and more, before deciding to drop everything and embark on a nearly one-thousand mile trek through America’s Pacific Crest Trail. With literally nothing left to lose and no real home to lay her head, the three month journey becomes a wake-up call for Strayed, who vows to use the experience to escape her bad decisions and become the woman her mother raised her to be. Wrestling with guilt and regret, Strayed learns who she is through her self-imposed, solitary retreat.

With just its premise, you can guess the metaphor to be found on Strayed’s journey – and yet it still feels impactful and urgent. Instead of showing us a woman battling the elements and an unforgiving wilderness, the film gives us a woman battling herself, alone, amongst the backdrop of a serene and oft-times graceful wilderness. Sure, there are physical obstacles, but the greatest things that Strayed wrestles come from within – and nothing brings that out better that director Vallee’s sensory execution. Using flashes of haunting imagery and artful musical cues to segue between a non-linear narrative of fractured memories, Vallee gives the film a dreamlike quality that haunts and sparks with feeling and sensitivity. Playing out almost like a tone poem, Strayed’s struggle gives perspective on how much we can really impact another person’s life while also illustrating how small we are as individuals in comparison to the dense world we inhabit.

wild_2On the performance front, Reese Witherspoon carries the entire film and its ideas on her shoulders, in what has to be her most penetrating performance yet. Most of the film is her alone, and she does a good job of relating the character’s tortured feelings, fighting with ideas that can’t always be put into words. There’s a true transformation here that’s understated in many ways, turning a character who could’ve easily been unlikable into someone we genuinely want to cheer for. Laura Dern also gets a special mention as Strayed’s late mother. Dern plays the part with grace and a gentle charm – she’s a selfless woman who always puts her family first, and she may be the heart of the film.

Wild beautifully illustrates that while there are many things out of our control, what we do have a say in is how we react and adapt to the world around us. Vallee finds the inherent beauty in nature that doesn’t call attention to itself, juxtaposing that with how the journey to find ourselves is a continual, transforming process. Healing from tragedy or anything that may pull us down is not always easy, but if we never try, we’ve already lost the battle.

Crome Rating: 4/5