wildGo Above Your Nerve


Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae, Gaby Hoffman and Cliff DeYoung
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Scriptwriter: Nick Hornsby based on the book by Cheryl Strayed “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”
Soundtrack available on Sony Legacy Records
Cinematography: Yves Belanger
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rating: R for sexual scenes, drug use and profanity
Running Length: 118 minutes
Screened at the Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF)


People handle grief in many ways. Some confront it right away, some ease into it, some need help and others run away from it until their own behavior is destructive. Such is the case of Cheryl Strayed, who dealt with the death of her mother by hiking a 1000 mile trail through California and Oregon at seven miles a day. Strayed’s book, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” was a best-seller and now is a film starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl, with Laura Dern as her mother. Sometimes it was a loving relationship and sometimes love-hate, but love wins out through walking and walking and walking.


Reese Witherspoon has thin legs and to see her put on a 60-pound backpack is, at first, played with humor, and later, the audience is panting with her as she goes uphill, bruises and all. The film begins with scenes of Cheryl’s childhood with a harsh father, broken home and Mom trying her best to cope with two children, Cheryl and her brother Leif (Keene McRae.)  Mom passes away and Cheryl and her brother have to cope with each other and this leaves a huge hole in their lives. Cheryl tries drugs, sex and nothing takes away the pain, so as a last resort, she decides to walk to get away from everything. Thus, the audience is on the hiking trail with adventures of sleeping alone in the wilderness, worrying about snakes, howling coyotes, dwindling food supplies (tuna corn mush being one combination), scary people, accidents, losing equipment, learning how to purify water, climbing steep hills and crossing streams. No wonder, Cheryl became famous for improvising on the Trail. At one point, especially, the confrontation between loneliness and facing loss is finally reached---right out in the middle of nowhere where screams echo through the mountains and a fox stares intently at this yelling person. The photography is beautiful and soundtrack a compilation of various songs appropriate to the scene.


Reese Witherspoon does give us a woman who has to go a thousand miles from home before she can face herself. In flashbacks to her younger days and life with Mom, Witherspoon and Laura Dern seem like mother and daughter who explode at each other and then hug each other. It’s called love. The rest of the cast are there for appearances, such as the sly-looking poachers, teen-age hikers, and those with helpful hints like getting a new pair of hiking boots ordered to arrive at the next destination. The land scenes go well, but the mountain scenes with snow make you wonder who in the world would try this alone, but she did. Those climbing Mount Everest probably had an easier time.


I have not read Cheryl Strayed’s book, but the film brings out the beautiful and lonely aspect of hiking, the friendships that can build, and how out there in the wide beyond, the only thing you have is yourself and your mind to keep you going. It’s no wonder people talk to themselves, and oh, yes, I did not see her put on sun screen.



Copyright 2014 Marie Asner