At the 2013 Festival, director Jean-Marc Vallée debuted Dallas Buyers Club , a film that went on to win three Academy Awards. It is no surprise then that his latest film Wild would come into the Festival with high expectations. Based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Cheryl Strayed, the film is about a woman who decides hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through California, Oregon, and Washington would help her heal from childhood trauma, lost loves, self-destructive behaviour, and the death of her mother. Facing the elements on her own teaches her strength, courage, and forgiveness.
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) has lost a lot in her short life, having been through several traumatic events. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, her family has very little, and her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) dies from cancer at an early age. As these all take their mental toll on her, Cheryl begins to slip into dangerous habits that begin spiralling out of control. She continuously cheats on her husband and begins taking hard drugs to the point where she ends in divorce. When she hits rock bottom, she decides to take a chance to create a fresh start and the best way to do that is by finding herself while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Her hiking journey is filled with flashbacks to these various times in her life and being alone, having to rely on her own wit and skills, allows her to finally able unlock the demons that she has tried to bury. This allows her to forgive those that have hurt her and to forgive herself, thus in the process find a new energy for life.
This is the kind of life-affirming story that reminds that our time on this earth is short. We must make the most of what we are given while we are here and find a purpose that makes the journey worthwhile. Cheryl’s pilgrimage through the hills allows her to understand that after pushing herself beyond what she thought she was capable of. The people she meets along the way offer their support and encouragement to carry on as they also travel on an excursion to be at one with themselves.
Reese Witherspoon is fully committed to this role. She wanted to be the one to bring it to the big screen from the very beginning, having bought the movie rights before the book was even published. She portrays this journey on screen with such passion and authenticity that it reminds us of her talent as an actress and that she is deserving of the Oscar nomination that is almost certainly headed her way. The audience is able to find themselves in this character and this story, as the spiritual transformation that takes place is universal to the human experience.
This film takes the audience on a reflective quest of their own. It causes us to look inside ourselves, at our own wounds, and to ponder the steps we can take to change, heal, and forgive. This is the mark of a great story that has been translated well from page to screen and serves as a reminder of the power cinema has to bring us together in shared experience.