I have several indulgences in life. Firstly, I rarely take a book with me for a plane trip. Indulgence #1 – I prefer to buy a book at the airport (preferably US Trade size and pricing). I like to choose something that is new, unreleased in New Zealand yet and something that fits my mood in that very moment. It helps me to focus on being present during those delicious flights where I switch off from my phone, the internet and often, the people sitting alongside me.
This November, as I was wandering through Nashville airport it was Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, ‘Wild’, that caught my eye. The film was already in production, featuring an erstwhile Reese Witherspoon on the cover. Easy choice. The true story of a somewhat unlikeable woman facing a crossroads of family and personal trauma and choosing to process her pain through an at times impassable hiking trail appealed to my sense of adventure.
I read her story in just two sittings. Partly because the book itself is at times too easy to read for the depth of human experience it covers.
I immediately planned to watch the film after its release. Which brings me to Indulgence #2. A movie for one, with a glass of wine in one of my favourite cinemas. There’s something truly lovely about surrendering to the experience without care or regard for anyone else!
Verdict on the film:
Given the nuanced subject matter of the film, it’s no surprise that it’s release has been small scale. However, Witherspoon’s performance is measured, grounded and believable. If she has previously always erred a little too far on the side of good, I found her characterization of Cheryl remained rooted in a woman with neurosis and addiction issues. While the film skimmed through some of the internal monologues that filled the pages of the book, the masterful editing pulls through pieces of Strayed’s past in a rhythmic cadence with her present.
Given the book is a personal memoir, you almost wonder if the author has come to like herself yet. By the time she leaves the trail, Cheryl is not a protagonist hero. She has overcome plenty but you get the sense there is still another mountain pass to climb through. The film is not about Strayed finishing the trail, but about the ways we find ourselves again after we’ve lost the path. Strayed, if not likeable, is certainly admirable. You might say the same for her mother, played by the always outstanding Laura Dern.
The book paints a character who is dangerously flawed, suffering through domestic violence and falling into alcohol abuse before a swift redemptive arc places her back on a path to achieving super-womanhood. Her death highlights Strayed’s view of injustice in the world, as well as her struggle with her own life and death choices.
Why you should see the film? Because these stories, told without romantic and unrealistic happy endings are important to understand and perceive as possible. You’ll enjoy seeing Witherspoon play a character with some depth and unresolved trauma. This is her best work since Walk The Line, in my view.
Book Vs Film: This is a rare instance where I think you could happily choose one or the other. Certainly I believe reading the book first made it easier for me to connect with Strayed on-screen. There are deeper and richer nuances capturned in the 300 pages of memoir that simply couldn’t of survived the cutting room. But the essence and truth of the story is there.
You’ll remember the line: “Putting myself in the way of beauty.” And the pragmatic relationship Strayed, a writer, has with her books along the path.