Wild - Movie Review

Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon in Wild
Reese Witherspoon in Wild. George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images

When your life is in a downward spiral of drugs and sex, what should you do? Take a 1000 mile solo thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail? Cheryl Strayed turned her life around that way, as she wrote in her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Reese Witherspoon portrays her in the 2014 movie.

I had to take a step back to rate the movie on its own, having read the book, which was an Oprah book club pick.

The author collaborated on the screenplay, ensuring the movie was a true depiction of her journey.

The movie is rated R for nudity, sex, drug use, domestic abuse and profanity. It is no travelogue or rom-com. As with the book, we see a woman whose life is broken. Her journey on the trail is painful physically and emotionally from the first toenail-losing scene.

She makes bad choices as "the girl who always says yes." We know from the beginning that her marriage and other relationships are broken. Why she chooses to hike the Pacific Crest Trail is dealt with in brief scenes in the middle of the movie.

The crushing loss of her mother was the chief source of her downward spiral. Laura Dern portrays the mother, Bobbi, in many flashback sequences. Bobbi has life wisdom that Cheryl eventually comes to appreciate on the PCT. You need to find happiness in the moment even with a hard life.
More: 4 Life Lessons from the Movie

The book explained how hiking solo was an integral part of her plan to shock herself into real self-analysis. The movie includes three encounters with men, triggering fear and caution as a solo hiker. At times her initial caution is unwarranted as the man turns out to be helpful. At other times it's enough to convince you to never hike alone.

She has both the dangers of being a woman solo hiker and the benefits of being treated as "the Queen of the PCT."

I cried during the movie, although I never thought the movie was tugging the heartstrings. The tears were earned, stirring personal reflections about loss and choices and the struggle to reclaim your life.

There are some lighter scenes, but overall it is much heavier than the similar-themed The Way, in which Martin Sheen takes up his lost son's journey on the Camino de Santiago. By the end of The Way, I wanted to walk the Camino. By the end of Wild, I just wanted to go hug my mom.

Will Wild Cause a PCT Through-Hiker Boom?

The Camino de Santiago has seen a huge increase in walkers from America since The Way debuted, so there is little reason to doubt a similar boom isn't in store for the Pacific Crest Trail due to Wild.

Local communities along the Pacific Crest Trail may need to rescue unprepared movie-inspired thru-hikers. I suggest you read Cheryl's book and learn from her mistakes before you decide to take that journey.

  • Compare Prices: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
  • Wild is also available as an audiobook via Audible.com: Buy Direct

Cheryl's journey was in 1995, the era before GPS, text messaging and hiking apps. Cell phone coverage is absent even today along most of the PCT. Even with modern conveniences, through-hikers need to carry all of their own food, water and shelter and rely on supply shipments at trailheads along the way.

Don't go unless you have trained for a hard hike and practiced on overnight trips with your backpacking shelter, hiked with your fully-loaded pack, and practiced with your water-purification system.

Shallow Notes on the Movie Wild

It was fun to see Portland's Everclear frontman Art Alexakis in a cameo as a tattoo artist. Much of the nudity in the film is by Reese herself, and she has an enviously youthful body. They do a good a job of portraying chafing wounds along all points where she carries her enormous backpack. As a local, seeing Bridge of the Gods brought me back to the times I've walked across its scary open-grating deck, most recently on the Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon, which is walker-friendly. Thru-hikers with pack horses often blindfold them to cross the bridge.

Second Opinion: Hiking Expert Lisa Maloney Reviews

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