I went back and forth on whether I should watch Wild on a plane at all. I was tired and kind of broody and very much looking forward to home. I pretty much knew it was going to make me emotional, and I didn’t know if I was prepared to be emotional in a very full A380.
But I really wanted to see it, so I charged on. I nearly passed out when she ripped her toenail off in the first scene, and I’m pretty sure I got a little verklempt about 5 minutes later and teetered there for the rest of the film.
It’s been at least 2 years since I read the book. My sister gave it to me after she’d read it with a glowing recommendation, but I already knew about it after having stumbled across Cheryl Strayed’s formerly anonymous advice column Dear Sugar in a period of pretty severe personal angst and depression.
So I already wanted to read it. I wanted to love it despite always feeling slightly ill-at-ease with Strayed’s advice writing style. It’s bare and clear and at sometimes beautiful. It’s also at times almost TOO eloquent, perfectly-formed, and inspirational for my style – which I might label eternal optimism perpetually tinged with realistic-yet-humourous bile – but it’s often very good advice nonetheless.
Her writing style persisted in Wild, and while I did enjoy it and was immensely appreciative of the story she was telling, I still felt a little off about it. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is for a long time, and I think part of it has something to do with the fact that she had so many tangible, terrible things to run away from or deal with and I just… don’t. My parents are still together and my family has all sorts of normal problems and drama, but nothing on the horrendous end of the scale. I was not abused or neglected by anyone. The hardest drug I’ve done is pot, which I don’t even like, and I feel a bit naughty when I have my one cigarette a year. I’m sure I could go into other horrible things I have not experienced, but suffice to say I’m lucky and privileged and relatively well-adjusted. And I am very much aware of this.
This doesn’t make my problems less problematic by any means – everyone’s got valid issues in the context of their life. It also doesn’t make me less likely to want to get away from things. Because clearly I’ve gone right the hell away from where I came from, and I know for me it was an excellent decision, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell you why. And I know I want to leave everything behind again, just for a few months, but I’m not running from anything. I’m probably looking for something. As was Cheryl Strayed. As are most people who read and think too much.
The other part of my unease may lie somewhere in Strayed’s ability to make everything sound so well-considered. Almost as though it was all just waiting to be a lesson. This sounds a lot harsher than I mean it to be, because she’s a really good writer and deserves that acclaim. But occasionally I just feel like everything there has the polish of hindsight, and I need things a little rougher around the edges when it comes to reflection.
Anyway, I always feel like I should have liked the book more than I did. I certainly love the intent behind it and I don’t need a matching motivation to understand a shared outcome. But I think I liked the movie more than the book because the story was filtered through screenwriting and cinematography and music that I never felt were too… whatever it is that rubs me the wrong way about the writing sometimes. Of course the darker elements of her story are still there, but the focus is much more on the trip, both for its own struggles and as a vehicle for working shit out. And it’s so nicely done.
There’s a lot there that you don’t see on film enough, like some of the challenges of being a woman on a solo trip of any kind – particularly in the way that most people are NOT a threat, but you sometimes have to interact with them as though they are to protect yourself (which I realise men have to do too, just in very different ways, and not as often). The various states of being alone are captured in such honest and intimate ways; Sometimes you’re scared shitless and you just have to ride it out. Sometimes you figure stuff out on your own and it doesn’t matter that no one’s around to congratulate you – hell, in some cases, it’s better. Sometimes you feel completely ridiculous. Sometimes you ARE completely ridiculous.
It may be this film’s fault that I got no sleep on the flight because it set my brain into overdrive thinking about travel and home and what I want to do and why stuff is the way it is. But I will forgive it. It’s pretty great, as is Reese Witherspoon. And her massive backpack (another in-built lesson to us all, perhaps).
And if that weren’t enough, it ends with this absolutely brilliant First Aid Kit cover of Walk Unafraid, which is one of those film closing music choices that is so spot-on you almost feel things have gone the other way and the movie was written to lead into the song.
PS I also have to point out that Art Alexakis pops up for all of 3 minutes in this movie, which mostly no one else will care about but was HIGHLY unexpected and incredibly amusing to a former completely devoted Everclear fan. I nearly audibly said ‘NO WAY!’ and threw my airline dinner bread roll at the screen.
PPS If you liked Wild, here’s my review of Tracks, which I truly, truly love, writing and all. The film is good. The book is stellar.