Is suffering a necessary component in obtaining knowledge? Seemingly, that's the message which the new film, "Wild," wants to convey.
In this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Reese Witherspoon plays the troubled author who attempts to exorcise her demons. After the death of her beloved mother (exquisitely portrayed by Laura Dern), Cheryl plunges into an abyss of promiscuous, heroin-addled behavior which leads to the dissolution of her marriage. Impulsively, she sets out to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with no prior experience whatsoever.
Over the course of 150 days, the 26-year-old's grueling and dangerous trek takes her from California's Mojave desert to Oregon. During her ordeal there's a barrage of flashbacks providing insight into Cheryl's disturbing past. Her journey becomes more internal than the act itself. But is it redemptive? It doesn't seem to be important because the film ends as abruptly as the hike itself.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee ("Dallas Buyers Club") portrays the event as penance rather than an opportunity to expel inadequacies. Cheryl is forced to endure that which she cannot control on the hike, whereas in real life she was responsible for her choices. In her mind, possibly, the test of endurance would be cathartic.
Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornsby choose not to be judgmental in their approach of Cheryl's odyssey.
Witherspoon's performance is raw and her look is unvarnished. She captures the terrors in life with a biting reality evident in her demeanor and facial expressions. The perseverance of her character spills into reality by having to hoist a monster sixty-five pound backpack for six weeks (on the insistence of Strayed) while shooting.
While "Wild" lacks the punch and depth of character vividly portrayed in "Into the Wild," it's worth a watch. The scenery is majestic and the score is selectively poignant. But there's a lack of cohesive reflection as to the method in its madness. Perhaps, that was the intention.