Every week I read the NYT book list, and most of the last year “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed was there. I must admit, I wasn’t interested in reading it. A woman alone on the PCT looking for redemption didn’t seem as a relevant book to me. Then, Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon got the nomination for “Oscar” and one of my favorite authors Nick Hornby wrote the script for the film. I was intrigued. I saw the film and now, to fix the error of my ways, I will read the book too.
Reason for reading can be easily found in the fairly poetic plot of “Wild” and in great director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”, “C.R.A.Z.Y.”). He made the space in which Cheryl was hiking one of the characters of the story and in the moments of her showdown with the past, he made the story human and empathic on a great scale. Cheryl’s mother, beautifully played by Laura Dern, was her anchor in life and with her passing at the moment in which her life was getting sorted felt unjust and it was the beginning of the fall Cheryl will try to redeem by hiking the PCT. At the beginning of the movie she is inexperienced hiker and she used the wrong shoes, wrong gas for the stove and her backpack was overweight and she still didn’t quit. Her notebook was with her on the trip and she quoted Emily Dickinson on her first mile (“If your Nerve, deny you / Go above your Nerve“) trying to find extra inspiration for the hike. Firstly, she thought her hike would end in Ashland, but in the end it lasted longer than that and it did something to her. Cheryl at the end is not the same exploited and lost Cheryl she was at the beginning.
That transformation in the movie is shown not only through her exploits during her hike, but also by showing her traumas which have led her to the PCT in the first place. Her mum was her strength and when she died of cancer Cheryl lost it. That scene alone was a great critique of US health care system since nobody has notified the next of kin that Bobbi died. That shock was completely left to the family and her death was the trigger to the path of self-destruction in which drugs, sex and even death threats were no stranger to her. She even changed her last name to Strayed since she felt lost, as a dog strayed on the road, and her only chance to find oneself, being to get to that PCT, finish it, and learn some difficult truths about herself. In the most provocative scene in the movie Strayed eats her mother’s ash as she wants to keep part of Bobbi to herself and by eating it Cheryl woes that she’ll become the kind of person her mother always thought she is.
Journey in the wilderness is transferred to the screen by poetry and introspection, Hornby was right in my opinion to make a movie in that manner, and I felt that Malick has met the indie cinema on the screen. Visual and poetic narration used by both Hornby and Vallée did the film a favor because it wasn’t difficult to keep the concentration to the narration and psychological journey of the main character. I felt strongly for Cheryl and I wasn’t bothered much with the truths and wrongs of her trip while I was watching it. Afterwards, by reading the comments on the IMDB page I’ve found much hate for the book and the film respectively, but, talking strictly in my own name, I was completely taken by the film. I don’t know if Cheryl invented some events or if the movie is completely true, but if she did invent the elements of the story than she made very good and intriguing fiction.
When her hiking ends, Cheryl’s life is consolidated. She is trough with meeting her soul again and she’s ready for anything that life has to offer. In the end, we find out that she’s married now, she has children (one of her children, young Bobbi named after her mother played her as a child in the movie) and she’s happy. Poetry of Emily Dickinson and Adrienne Rich is well incorporated in the movie. It has helped to make the movie as a poetry in motion, as a journey into the soul of Cheryl Strayed (because every poetry is in fact mirror of the emotions) and because of that I would highly recommend “Wild”.
Fighting loss is never easy. Sometimes, extreme measures are needed to close that book and rarely these measures had been as extreme as they were here.