10 years in the making

Wild | ArtHouse Crouch End

Finally, here’s a Hollywood film that’s not afraid of using the f word. Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, who in 1995 walked the 1100 mile Pacific Crest Trail alone, clearly and unequivocally says she is a feminist. She doesn’t hate men, she’s not a sad victim, she’s not running away from a weird or abusive relationship, and she doesn’t fit any other kind of lazy gender stereotype.
In an attempt to sort out her chaotic life after the early death of her beloved mother, played by Laura Dern, Cheryl sets off on her trek from the Mojave Desert to Oregon. Her journey though different seasons and the snowy landscapes, desert wildernesses and forest trails is beautifully filmed, and along the way we piece together her story through a series of often painful flashbacks.
She carries a lot baggage, both metaphorically and literally, but in her comic struggles with her rucksack, and to put up a tent, she comes across as a real person, learning self-reliance and making mistakes along the way. It’s a solitary and punishing trek, and it’s not just the feats of physical endurance she has to confront; as a lone woman there are also the fears and uneasiness that surround her encounters with men.
At the heart of the film is Cheryl’s relationship with her mother, and while her grief is shown in moving scenes from her past, it also illustrates weaknesses in the film. Reese Witherspoon isn’t always convincing as a dissolute heroin addict, and director Jean-Marc Vallée could have reined in some of Laura Dern’s sometimes overplayed upbeat mum. It’s not short of clichéd symbolism either, or corny platitudes, and there’s even a lone wolf in the snow moment.
But there’s an honesty at the core of the film’s intentions that’s uplifting. It shows a resilient but imperfect woman who find some kind of way to liberate herself from her demons on her own terms, and to discover in herself a woman she can live with and respect.