A review of the movie “Wild” based on Cheryl Strayed’s book of the same name.
a past partner and I had a lovely DINK Christmas and Christmas Eve.
As a childless couple, and not traveling for the holidays, we decided to take it easy.
We had a wonderful meal at a local restaurant followed by a movie on Christmas Eve. And on Christmas day, we had a leisurely breakfast followed by a ski tour with some mulled wine at night accompanied by a curried pork roast (All Magnanti men can cook. 🙂 )
All in all, a nice little holiday for the both of us.
And the movie we saw was THAT movie: Wild.
Based on THAT book of the same name, Wild is a book, and now movie, that the general public seems to enjoy overall but has raised controversy in the long distance hiking community. I’ve already discussed those themes before, so I’ll just concentrate on the movie specific views or observations.
As a person who has walked the length the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), I obviously have some thoughts on the movie that are different from the general public. On the other hand, any movie should be viewed on its merits as a movie itself.
As mentioned, my a past partner accompanied me to this movie as well. a past partner, a lover of the outdoors, had her own experiences she brought to the movie, too.
So, with these thoughts in mind, this review can be divided into three different parts:
- What did I think of the movie as a PCT hiker?
- What did I think of the movie as entertainment?
- What did a past partner think of the movie?
Seeing the movie as a Pacific Crest Trail hiker
We all bring our own experiences and memories to anything we read, watch or listen to.
Depending on our experiences, some media experiences resonate more so than others.
The Catholic faith I was brought up with makes watching the Last Temptation of Christ a deeply moving experience for me.
And when I read Mystic River, the description of the people from the working-class Catholic neighborhoods of Boston were not far removed from my own upbringing and the people I knew in Rhode Island.
And the book and movie Wild had some of that effect on me.
I watched the movie and the areas depicted, the mid-90s gear and the scenes of camaraderie brought back many of my own memories from both the long trails and my early backpacking trips.
The scene in the movie that especially resonates was Cheryl Strayed sitting in her tent and shooting the breeze with fellow backpackers. A mixture of goofiness, some deeper thoughts and just relaxing with fellow wilderness pilgrims that seems to happen on the long trails.
The gear may change; the experience seldom does.
And, I think, many of us also bring our past experiences and memories when viewing a film, reading a book or watching a television show.
For many people who have hiked the PCT, or any long trail for that matter, that experience shapes their lives in many ways.
It is a profound experience. Where every day has something different and new. Where life is down to the essentials. The camaraderie is strong. And everyday has the potential to be intense. The long walk taken in 1995, 2002, 2008 or 2014 resonates long after the last trail marker is passed.
And that is why I think there is such a strong emotional response to Wild. It is difficult to separate the experience a hiker may have had and to objectively read the book or view the movie.
However, I think many people are forgetting that book and the movie is not really about the PCT. It is merely a backdrop for the personal journey Cheryl Strayed took. Her journey was not the “only” 1100 miles she did on the trail. Her journey was about overcoming grief, poverty, family issues and drug addiction. Through her journey, she was able to overcome these obstacles and marry someone she loved, have a family and start a successful career.
For the mainly young, white, college educated hikers with a middle to upper-middle class upbringing, there may not have been the same level of personal challenges in their life in many cases. Not to say we all don’t have strife in our life, but having certain advantages in life makes, well, life easier. For many PCT hikers, hiking the PCT was THE challenge. Finishing the PCT was THE accomplishment.
And to have a person who “only” hiked 1100 miles of the PCT, not really write about the PCT per se and to be wildly (ha!) successful because of it? That’s an OUTRAGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That’s my nickel’s worth of analysis anyway.
Enough of the of overall gist, what about the specific criticisms?
- Her gear was too heavy! She should have been better prepared!
While I did not attempt an 1100 mile backpacking trip as my first trip, my own foray into backpacking was not too dissimilar.
Since I am forty years old, Cheryl Strayed and are I near contemporaries. My own first backpacking trip was in 1996 (vs 1995 for when Wild took place).
I carried too much, did not have the right gear, became lost, over exerted myself and stumbled along. Most of my first season of backpacking was in this mode. By the end of my first year of backpacking, I was competent enough but still had a way to go. Much like Cheryl Strayed at the end of her own journey. She learned, adapted and persevered. Like all of us.
Now, back in 1995, there was not the sheer amount of data available to hike the long trails. The Internet, as we know it today, was at the very nascent stage in 1995.
There were guidebooks, but no handy iPhone app to point the way. No hiker aid stations set up and no forums and websites with handy-dandy pre-made gear lists. Nothing so conveniently ready-listed to optimize gear selection for the very specific task of hiking a well maintained and marked trail with ample guidebooks and electronic apps, support, easy logistics and a great infrastructure to support hikers.
You learned by joining an outdoor group, having a sympathetic friend or family member show you the way, perhaps had some military experience or you learned the hard way. Cheryl learned the hard way. So did I. So did many others.
- She is not practicing LNT principles!
Somewhat of a valid criticism, but LNT was not really well-known until the late 1990s/early 2000s among most. The adage of “Leave only footprints” has been understood for longer, of course.
But the specific criticism of her throwing the boot over the cliff was done in anger. Not condoning the action, but I think we’ve all done less than ideal things in anger? My self included. Basically, it seems like the critics are being angry for the sake of being angry.
And the other criticism of just covering up “Number 2” with rocks is a valid one for 2014 hikers. In 1995, esp if no-one told a person the proper way of doing something, it does not seem wrong per se. But rather than kvetch, reach out and do some education of new hikers. And not in a passive-aggressive way as one anti-Wild website that comes to mind. 🙂
- Scenes aren’t really on the PCT!!!!
Cripe…Besides not wanting to impact the PCT itself, it was not always practical to film on the exact PCT.
A film is about telling the story. It is not going to be a documentary trying for 100% verisimilitude.
On a similar note, Lawrence of Arabia was not filmed in Damascus. Das Boot was not filmed in an actual World War Two submarine. And Star Wars was not really filmed in a galaxy far, far, way. All three movies are still excellent.
- She’s a heroin addled nympho!
Well, she was off heroin on the trail. And she had one sexual encounter on the trail as well. One positive and consensual sexual encounter in 100 days, esp for a single and healthy 26 year-old person, seems rather benign and, frankly, normal. If a man wrote a similar story about having a fun, but brief, encounter in a trail town, the “bros” in the audience would be hooting and hollering.
Enough about the PCT specific items. On to Wild as entertainment.
“Wild” as entertainment: My own view.
As a movie, I thought it was fine but not great. Much how I viewed the book itself. A solid three stars out of five.
If it wasn’t for the PCT backdrop, or even the backpacking in general backdrop, I suspect I would have ignored the movie. The type of story portrayed in Wild does not necessarily appeal to me.
I readily admit to enjoying movies that contain elements of being epic, darker, cynical, intense, lyrical, and/or having black humor. So a movie of self-discovery and recovery would not necessarily appeal to me.
The music was enjoyable, the cinematography was good. The acting? On some levels it was good, but performed and directed in a way that seems a bit overt in being Oscar bait.
The story itself? Again, not necessarily one that would appeal to me. I am glad Cheryl Strayed’s story resonated with many people or even found it inspiring. Just not a story that spoke to me.
*** out of *****
“Wild” as entertainment: a past partner’ view
My a past partner loves the outdoors, but has no interest in going on a long, multi-week, hike.
Unlike me, she tends to enjoy movies of self-discovery. The intensity of the movie itself, and similar types of movies, is difficult for her however.
a past partner enjoyed the movie slightly more than me. The acting and writing were enjoyed more, and having no PCT baggage, she could simply enjoy the story for what it was rather than what she expected it to be.
(She also poked mild fun at me and whispered periodically over the course of the movie: “Yes, I know you’ve been there. ” 🙂 )
She made the astute observation that the book and movie is popular because the movie is not about hiking, but about recovery through a journey. She thinks too many critics of the book and movie focus on the Pacific Crest Trail aspect and ignore the greater part of Wild.
My a past partner went on to agree with me that a similar and popular movie could have been made about other journeys. But, as she brought up, without the back story of the grief and family issues, and the resulting drug use and sex that preceded Cheryl Strayed’s journey, the book and movie would not have resonated with so many people. A story of recovery and self-discovery, through a journey, is of more interest to the general non-outdoor public, than “just” a walk in the woods.
Conversely, someone going to therapy for several months and ending some destructive habits, would have been a less-than-enthralling story. The journey, with the PCT as the backdrop, was the hook the story needed to hang on.
Popularity does not equal quality of course. But there has to be some interest among the general public to make a book or movie more than a niche product.
Overall, a past partner gave the movie **** out of *****. A good, if not great movie. One that she enjoyed.
So here’s one more review of Wild. It was an enjoyable movie, but one I doubt we’ll see again. For my part, I doubt I’d have seen the movie if it was not for the PCT. a past partner may have seen the movie on her own if it popped up in her Netflix queue (and fast forwarded through the more intense parts).
In a few years, this rabid anti-Wild cacophony will hopefully pass. For the people who are so angry about a book or movie that it colors their interactions to a great degree, time to move on. Be constructive with your obvious passion about the trail and do something truly positive. The trail needs you and your deeds. Not your anger.
Don’t be the equivalent of angry Trekkies at a Star Trek convention.