Cheryl sits up, hunched over barely holding the weight of her body numbed by the drugs flowing through her veins. She is naked, bruised, colored by the smears of her makeup and the mattress on the floor she rests on is hardly offering support or comfort. Everything about the woman, daughter, thinker, sister, wife she once was is lost. Her body is lost to the drugs. Her dignity is on the mattress with the guy passed out against the stained wall. Her mother is lost to the disease all too common, cancer. Her mind is lost to grief.
For those who have experienced grief, this tale might be relatable or understandable. The world changes on the other side loss. Before loss you feel safe. Before loss you are moving forward towards your dreams and goals. Afterwards the rules are different, you are different. How can you possibly move forward when you can barely move? How can the world have meaning when you can barely feel? This is the ride we get to go on with Cheryl Strayed in “Wild,” based on her memoir and starring Reese Witherspoon.
“Wild” tells a story about grief but also about guilt and shame and thousands of other emotions that we experience with Strayed as she pulls a Proclaimers and walks 500 miles and then walks 500 more on the Pacific Crest Trail. This journey is like watching someone go through an entire penitential Lenten season in two hours. Every step of the trail is a reminder of the pain she’s felt and wrongs she’s committed to those who are closest to her.
The walk is part of finding herself. After all, Strayed’s memoir is subtitled “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” However, the walk is also self-inflicted punishment. Strayed carries her pack like it’s filled with all her burdens and at the end of the day she has the scares to prove how heavy it is.
The clever way the film is pieced together combined with Witherpoon’s performance pulls you in. You want to know what went wrong, you want to know how bad it got. And as Strayed goes back, deeper and deeper into the dark places she goes forward. The hike gets easier the farther she goes. The pack, sometimes literally, gets lighter.
There are times in this film when you hate Strayed for doing drugs, for cheating, etc. The thing is she hates herself for the same things as she imagines doing them with her deceased mom, played beautifully by Laura Dern, looking on. There are also times when you will love Strayed for her insightful quotes, the comradery she forms with fellow hikers, her reactions to well deserved Snapples, and more. There are also times when you feel her fear, her frustration, and her sadness.
It is easy to feel with Strayed, one because of Witherspoon’s portrayal, and two because she could be any of us. This film won’t be a cake walk for anyone who has experienced the kind of grief Strayed has but it can be rewarding knowing that anyone deserves a second chance. Along the way Strayed gets to realize how much she was throwing away, how much she is worth. Perhaps the best part about this journey is that it didn’t make Strayed perfect, it redeemed her and made her stronger. The rules do change after your loved ones slip through your fingers, but Strayed proves you can still play the game.