I am so touched by books. Not just any book, but the right book. Books that affect me. Books that strike a chord in my being and echo my existence, reminding me of my importance and my own journey ahead. Rather stories than anything else. A good story is a whirlwind, a wild ride that razzles your emotions and dazzles your spirit. What could be more of a wild ride than my recent favorite, Wild by Cheryl Strayed? As you may know, this momentous memoir is also a movie, thanks to actress Reese Witherspoon and director Jean-Marc Vallée. It has earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and the book is still a #1 New York Times bestseller. Wild has blown up, and for good reason.
Cheryl Strayed was young, lost in life, and overridden with grief from her mother’s sudden death and her own mountain of mistakes. Divorced and struggling to find meaning, she turned to a guidebook she saw in a home improvement store about the PCT, the Pacific Crest Trail, which in total spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. It started as a thought and expanded into a full blown plan to hike from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to the border with Washington State. Without much expertise or preparation, Cheryl took herself on the hike from hell, which led to something much larger than countless lost toenails. Cheryl writes her memoir with absolute truth. Every word and every thought expressed speaks to the reader, and her sentiments are so touching it feels as though we personally know her. She surely doesn’t sugar-coat anything, as she paints the painful portrait of her past, from an abusive and alcoholic father, to her mother’s devastating passing, to her heroin-fueled escapades with other men while being a married woman, all the way to her trek on the PCT. Her storytelling, in being such an entirety and written so eloquently yet without reserve, makes the memoir an absolutely human work. It is relatable, and in the same breath is heart-wrenching and awe-inspiring. Cheryl hiked herself “back to the woman her mother raised,” and through her grand journey, she learned to accept her past mistakes and fully understand herself as the flawed woman she was. By stripping herself down to a bare human, alone in the open wilderness, she discovered the glorious opportunities that were right within her grasp- how nobody could tame her spirit and how far she could go once she was in control of her own life. Cheryl touched me in such a way that I will treasure this book forever. I wailed over her descriptions of her mother, which she called the center of her being. I couldn’t help but examine my own life, and remember to admire every moment spent with the ones I love, in the life of my direction. Books that make something rise in the reader are what writing is all about. Her personal responsibility for her life and determination to find a meaning in it were so rich in bravery they inspire one to hope for their own act of courage one day. Although it may not take a thousand mile hike to lead everyone to salvation, it is guiding to know how much we are capable of, and that there is a PCT out there for everyone, just waiting for our noble steps.
From the start, Wild was an ambitious adaptation. A memoir with so much grit, raw emotion, and miles covered seems a task to adapt to the big screen. In a two hour running time, Wild the Movie proves a solid film. With Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Laura Dern as her mother, Wild has an accomplished cast who successfully bring to life Cheryl Strayed’s story. Witherspoon portrayed Cheryl accurately, as flawed but multi-dimensional, and driven on a journey to something. The movie takes the flashback approach, with scenes of her travels paralleled with scenes from her past. Although this doesn’t provide all of the details as in the memoir, it is a logical cinematography, as it condenses the story into the most important points. I noticed a few of the details actually altered, such as the chronology of events on the trail, the absence of her sister, and others not featured as prominently, such as her fling with the club owner, but again, this helps condense the story. For all it had to work with, Wild the Movie proves a successful adaptation. None of the emotion is lost, although I know readers of the book will be impacted significantly more from the movie than non-readers. I have to give director Vallée credit for somehow dividing such an elaborate book but still keeping the story whole. The ending holds true to the book, and the final quotes “. . .seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life- like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be,” remain such a beautiful sentiment, echoed to the viewer as the definitive result of Cheryl’s monumental expedition. And we feel blessed to have come along for the ride.