Well, now that the Oscar nominees were announced and the Awards Ceremony is almost upon us, it’s time to have some catching up.
I’ll be honest with you, folks. It’s been a while since the last time I felt so lost. I don’t know where to start with this one.
On the one hand, the novel/memoir by Cheryl Strayed is one of my most favourite books in the world. I’ve read it 3 times so far – twice before the film adaptation was announced, and once again just recently because it’s been too long, and because it felt like the right thing to do before watching the film.
On the other hand, I kind of dreaded the idea of adaptation because Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is very narrative and visual; 90% of it is either description of Cheryl’s surroundings, or her internal monologue, peppered with only occasional dialogue every now and then. ‘Challenging’ doesn’t even begin to cover it, to be fair. Was I worried about being disappointed? Yes. Yes, I was.
Wild is a story of a 26-year old woman named Cheryl Strayed who, unable to deal with the loss of her mother, decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail that runs along the West Coast of the US from the Mexico border to Manning Park, BC, hoping she’d find her inner peace in the process. Being as inexperienced as any hiker can possibly be, Cheryl packs a ginormous backpack and sets off on her journey in Mojave Desert in California, planning to finish it on the Oregon/Washington border, which amounts to approximately 1800 km.
This journey is not exactly your walk in the park. Cheryl has to deal with extreme temperatures – from the desert heat to snowfalls to impenetrable fog, and on top of that – with the boots that turn out being too small for her, which causes her extreme discomfort, to say the least. How do you guys feel about starting to lose your toenails?
On her way, Cheryl meets her fair share of creeps, as well as truly amazing people, and eventually she finds peace she so desperately longs for.
The cast, hands down. Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern who played Cheryl and her mother Bobbi were amazing, the performance of both beyond brilliant – hence, I believe, their Oscar nominations for Best Lead Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. The chemistry between the two was a gem – the kind of thing that makes you feel truly present in the story, almost intrusive even, but in a very good sense. Their scenes were heartbreaking and beautiful. You can’t achieve something like this without having some kind of natural connection between the actors.
The locations were superb. The filming took place mostly in California and Oregon – the states Strayed walked across on her actual journey. If anything, Wild is absolutely stunning.
In the book, a great deal of the story is told through the thoughts and memories of Cheryl, who keeps replaying them in her mind as she walks. What the film did right was spreading these flashbacks, making them blend naturally and organically with the main plotline. The much necessary voiceover was reduced to a minimum, and its presence wasn’t at all intrusive. The story flow was immaculate.
My worries about the narration parts of the book were, unfortunately, justified. There are only so many times you can show a woman just walk, mostly in silence, with occasional voiceover, and we all know how much of a cheat voiceover is. The beginning of the journey was a huge thing in the book – the initial struggle Cheryl faced when it came to basically not being able to lift her backpack, or having to carry a 20-something pound dromedary bag of water because the first stretch of her hike lay across the desert.
In the book, the first few days established A LOT and showed how much and how many times Cheryl wanted to turn around and forget about the whole thing. After all, she didn’t HAVE to do it. The initial internal conflict allowed us to learn a lot about her as a character. In the film, however, the first 2 weeks were mostly shown in the form of a montage, and although I sympathized with her having to eat cold oatmeal because she didn’t know how to use her portable stove, it wasn’t the same. They skipped the most important part of the book. And I’m not okay with it.
Again, you can’t just show someone walking for 2 hours (of screen time), so the film is big on montages. Which is not too bad now and then, but by the end of it, they started getting a bit old, which was weird in a way because at the same time I really wanted to see more of the PCT and less drug use.
Now, this is going to be my personal issue…
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, being a novel about a woman suffering from depression, addiction, and a whole bunch of other things, is not the most ‘sunshine and rainbows’ kind of story to begin with. But for whatever reason – be it Strayed’s narrative skills or the general hope it leaves the readers with in the end – it still was fascinating and uplifting.
Wild the film was much darker and somehow a lot more depressing. I didn’t struggle through it per se, but it definitely won’t be on my list of dark-stormy-nights-feel-good movies. I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, to be honest, but I didn’t think it would make me feel uneasy when the book had the exact opposite effect.
I will definitely be reading and rereading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail for the rest of my life. If anything, I want to hike the PCT one day – this is how inspiring it is! As for the film, I might want to watch it again, and maybe even more than once, but probably not any time soon.
That said, I do think that Wild is a must watch. The performance of the cast, the setting, the story – they are all one of a kind. It is a worthy Oscar nominee, and I’ll be keeping my fingers and toes crossed for both Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. It’s a beautiful story about coping with loss and forgiveness and finding your true self in the end that everyone should have a look at. But – read the book first!