Director Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild is revelatory in ways Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007)  was not, though I think the latter film may be the more popular of the two. Penn’s movie, which starred Emile Hirsch, was the true account of a foolishly adventuresome man who wandered into the Alaskan wilderness with more guts than luck and perished while there.  In Wild, which is based on the memoirist book by Cheryl Strayed, Vallee tells the stark though compelling story of the loves and losses of a young woman from Minnesota (Reese Witherspoon) who confronts self-destruction by hiking the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada. Heat, hunger and thirst effectively exorcise many of her demons and strip away, at times literally, the calloused layers of her own disaffection and self loathing after a family tragedy. Vallee weaves through flashbacks Strayed’s story of abuse (domestic and drug), her failed marriage and promiscuity and her loving and contentious relationship with her remarkable mother (a stellar Laura Dern). The film’s exteriors are lovely but its interiors are not pretty and our heroine stinks (literally and figuratively) but all of it feels real from start to finish. Witherspoon is intrepid in her depiction of Strayed, who now lives in Portland, and is resolute in this journey to self. I asked my viewing companion if she thought Wild was a women’s picture. In doing so I was wondering if the pain that drove Strayed to tackle those many miles might be unfamiliar to man — much like the pain of childbirth. My friend said she thought the meaning was transcendent. I agree but also think men won’t connect with it as much, perhaps, as women who have known the fears and losses that Strayed shares in her story. Highly Recommended.


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