** Please note: This review may contain spoilers. **
Starring Reese Witherspoon, adapted from the book Wild by Portland’s Cheryl Strayed
Opening Friday, Dec. 12
Seattle: Bellevue Lincoln Square, Guild 45 Theater, Meridian 16
Portland: Regal Bridgeport 18, Cinema 21
By Carolyn Price
I predict most hiking boots on the market next year will sport bright red laces.
In the movie, Wild, Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) rocks red laces in her Danner hiking boots during her 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Washington State border.
From the moment she steps into her boots at the southern California trailhead, to watching one boot accidently tumble – and the other thrown in exasperation – off a rocky cliff, to getting new ones shipped to her from REI at a PCT waypoint, the red laces were a constant in this sad, emotionally gripping and triumphant hike-umentary.
With all the media hype before the Tuesday night pre-screening at Regal Thornton Place Theatres in Seattle, the 115-minute movie didn’t disappoint.
Remember any day-hike where you’ve faced down danger, didn’t pack enough water or pushed through blisters? If so, multiply that by Strayed’s 94-day trek. Gripping. Haunting. Revealing.
And painful – emotionally and physically. The scene where she plucks off her bloodied, rotten toenail whole … and then tosses it… scored a collective groan from the sold-out crowd in the theatre.
The movie is based on the 2012 memoir, Wild, by Portland’s Cheryl Strayed. The book was No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for seven weeks. It tells the story of Strayed who, in 1995 at age 22, walked out of her broken-down life and trekked into the deep wilderness to heal the grief of the death of her mother, her broken marriage and reckless drug use and sex.
With zero outdoors experience (e.g.: never seen wearing a hat or sunglasses; packing the wrong fuel for her camp stove and having to eat raw, cold mush; and buying a pair of boots too small), Strayed resolves to change her life with this enormous undertaking.
The journey maddens, strengthens and ultimately heals her.
The film uses flashbacks of the relationships with her mother (played by a spirited Laura Dern) and her husband (played by an empathetic Thomas Sadoski) to effectively tell the story. There are rich scenes featuring primal screams of ultimate angst and despair, to tender moments of Strayed as a child with her mother and younger brother.
There are also some very funny moments, including one of Strayed’s most surreal encounters when she is “interviewed” by a journalist named Jimmy Carter while she is hitch-hiking. Carter believes he has scored the ultimate scoop in finding a “lady hobo” to profile for The Hobo Times.” Witherspoon’s hobo-denial is priceless but in the end she accepts and wolfs down the “hobo care package” Carter hands her containing a bag of Tim’s Potato Chips and a can of Coke.
As a solo female hiker, Strayed used her pluck and verve to ward off sexual advances along the trail, and you can feel the raw fear and emotion from Witherspoon in these scenes. Conversely, Strayed was rewarded with chance encounters from fellow through-hikers along the PCT – all following their heart and soul in their own quests.
During her trek, Strayed used quotes from some of her favorite authors at the PCT Register boxes, signing their name – and then hers. One, “If your nerve, Deny you, Go above your nerve,” by Emily Dickinson, blends heartbreak and courage as it seems to describe the reason for Strayed’s adventure.
As Strayed’s grief unravels and she begins to understand her life and emerge from its fog, she writes this contemplation: “What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if all those things I did were the things that got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
I was left wondering if Strayed chose the Bridge of the Gods as a spiritual finish line. An interesting thought, considering her arduous quest from the start.
However, it is absolutely clear that as her beat-up boots with the now-dusty red laces step onto the span over the Columbia River that connects Oregon and Washington, that she has prevailed over her demons.
The film shows an exhausted but exulted Witherspoon stop mid-span and gaze out over the flowing water, her murmuring voiceover fast-forwarding to present day when she speaks lovingly of her husband and two children – her daughter named after her deceased mother, Bobbi.
The final scene is poignant as the camera pans to a sign at the end of the bridge: Stop.
It is a sign that Strayed’s new life has just begun.
Carolyn Price is Publisher of OutdoorsNW magazine. We welcome your comments. Email Carolyn here.