Film Review: ‘Wild’ – Hiking to Self Discovery

In Wild, Reese Witherspoon gets back to nature as she plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who walks over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail to come to terms with certain events in her life. From director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) and with a screenplay written by About a Boy author Nick Hornby, this film is based on the real Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, titled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

In a film packed with emotion, a glowing Laura Dern plays Cheryl’s loving mother Bobbi, who is the light of Cheryl and her younger brother’s lives. However, when she passes away, her children must learn to find their own ways in life.



Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in 'Wild.' Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.


Cheryl struggles to cope with her grief and it is in this emotional state that she begins a downward spiral of self-destructiveness including drugs and affairs. As her marriage to Paul (Thomas Sadoski) breaks up and she is left alone and desolate, it is her realization that she has fallen so far from the person she wants to be that leads her to leave her old life behind and seek solace on the trail.

Lacking knowledge about the reality of hiking long distances, Cheryl begins with an over-packed bag; a weight she must find the strength to carry, much like her own emotional baggage, until she finds a way to lighten her load. Despite her doubts, Cheryl picks herself up and begins the long walk through the wilderness of California and Oregon.

What follows is an enlightening journey, along which we see flashbacks to her old life and begin to gain a sense of just what Cheryl is seeking; to be the woman her mother raised. Walking the trail alone is part of Cheryl’s healing process, as with nothing but a few books and her thoughts for company, she is forced to accept responsibility for her actions and come to terms with their consequences.

Witherspoon plays Cheryl with both strength and vulnerability, as a complex woman who has lost her way in life, but is taking action to find herself once more. There are tears and tantrums along the way, but there are also moments of beauty that remain constant as she walks through the natural environment of arid desert and rainy forest. 

It is in these moments that the healing properties of the journey she has undertaken become clear, as moments of realization mark the progress of her mind and keep her going.

Cheryl has a few encounters with other people along the way, some friendly and others not so friendly. We see the different reactions she faces as a woman hiking alone in the wilderness, from respect to sexual objectification, and it is through these meetings that she learns, grows and ultimately becomes stronger.

The editing by Martin Pensa and Jean-Marc Vallée really brings the movie together, with a seamless interplay between Cheryl’s memories and the present moment. This helps the story move forward, past the fact that it is simply a story about a long walk. At times, we hear Cheryl’s inner monologue, whether she is singing in her head, thinking about her life or questioning her decision to hike such a distance. We gain access to her weaknesses and strengths, which help us understand why she needs to make this journey.

There are moments in the film where we expect something dramatic to happen, however as the action continues, we begin to realize that the truth of the story is simply carried by the naked emotions of the main character. This is not a story where we have to like Cheryl, but it is a story that lays her vulnerabilities out in the open for all to watch her inspiring progress and hopefully gain some perspective on our own lives along the way.


Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in 'Wild.' Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Biography | Drama. StarringReese Witherspoon, LauraDern and Gaby Hoffmann.Directed by Jean-MarcVallée. (R. 115 min.)