‘Wild’ Thoughts

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Wild is like a lot of ‘man vs. nature films.’ It’s real and it’s gritty, uncompromising and ugly at times and yet unlike a lot of those films, this one is a crowd-pleaser. It shouldn’t make sense. Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed and man (or should I say woman?) is she on a mission. This is where the ugly part comes in. Witherspoon as Strayed has done some really terrible things. Strayed was wildly promiscuous, developed a heroin addiction and was, at least in her mind, so cruel to her mother. The flashbacks we see aren’t really flashbacks at all, but instead quick bursts into the mind of Strayed and into what she is thinking at the moment. So even though we see how she treats her mother, her ex-husband or even her own body, we never think that she is a horrible person. It’s very easy to empathize with her even though sometimes we want to look away from some of her past decisions. Witherspoon does such a wonderful job of keeping us invested and entertained in what pretty much amounts to a one-person show. Yes, there are interactions for her with other people on her mission and we see that relationship with her mother, played so bubbly and optimistic by Laura Dern, but there’s no doubt that this is all Witherspoon and she is game. So what exactly is her mission? Well, she intends to hike the Pacific Crest Trail which is a trail that goes from the U.S./Mexican border to the Canadian one. It’s not uncommon to hike the trail but usually the people who do prepare for months or years. Strayed had no experience whatsoever and so it seems like she was destined to fail. What she had over some of the more experienced hikers, who ended up quitting at various times, was that determination, that pain that she held on to for years. This was her recovery and way of letting go. Witherspoon is so naked here, and no I don’t mean just her body, which she does expose. She puts it all out there. It’s not about looking glamorous or being likeable, it’s more about being real. Even though she is mean at times to her mother, without even really realizing it, her life still revolves around the woman. While it’s easy to point fingers and come up with examples of individuals who held it together under tough situations, Strayed did not. She fell apart and gave up, almost looking for ways to fill that emptiness. It’s so easy to judge, trust me all of us do it. Yet, I find it so hard to judge Strayed for all the messed up things she did in her past. I find the more real, the more mistakes a person makes, the more I can relate to that person because really, no one is perfect. Anyone trying to portray that image is just kidding themselves. Strayed says herself how despite everything, she would not change one thing. It’s an easy thing to say, it’s a harder thing to believe but that insane hike gave her the clarity and such a clear perspective. I love the outdoors. I also love physical activities and pushing your body to its limits. So while the emotional aspects of this film are so draining at times, the physical parts, the actual hiking, that’s the crowd-pleasing stuff that the audience ate up. Witherspoon proves she would have done great in silent movies as she gets great crown reactions from just her mannerisms or the way she prepares for her day. A movie like this shouldn’t be funny yet at times you find yourself laughing. It has so many bittersweet or just bitter moments and yet the movie can still make you smile. How do you explain that? It’s just life. I find that sense of accomplishment and doing something so extreme to be the thing that really hooked me into this movie. It’s about doing something and then only years later really realizing how insane that was. Thinking to yourself, “I can’t believe I did that.” For different people it’s different things and yet we all have those accomplishments that we busted our butts for and cannot even believe that we did them. It’s beautiful and it’s ugly, but you can’t have one without the other. It wouldn’t be so beautiful if it was just beautiful all the time. It takes the hard moments for us to truly appreciate the great ones. Witherspoon is great here much like she was in Walk the Line as June Carter. And that’s what I mean. How can you compare one to the other? They are both memorable and completely different performances so there’s no point in trying to say which one is better. In both movies she portrays real life characters but that’s where the similarities end. Witherspoon gives us great things to look forward to but also frustrates as we wonder what she’s been doing the past couple years. That’s what great performances do, they make you question everything. Great films do the same thing. They make you sit down and not just look at the movie you just saw but also at life in general. It’s almost like the floodgates open. Much like any movie, it’s not always about the ending, it’s about the journey. This applies to this film as well, it’s not about will she finish or not, it’s about that road to forgiveness. Not forgiveness for her ex-husband who she did do wrong, but for forgiveness of herself. Strayed’s closing lines and amazement at what she had just accomplished as well as what she would do in the future could not be more perfect. Wild is not always easy to watch, but the great films are never that simple.

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