Wild, a film based on Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical book of the same title, revolves around her lone thousand-mile trek through the Pacific Crest Trail after years of reckless, self-destructive decisions.
by Portia Ladrido
Cheryl lost all hope. With a failed marriage and her mother’s passing, she fell into this black hole of despair, self-pity, and misery. Reese Witherspoon, who garnered an Academy Award nomination for playing Cheryl, exquisitely portrayed the role of an empty-eyed woman who didn’t know where to go, what to do, or how to make sense of life.
The subtlety of her immense struggle – from her difficulty in carrying a polyester hiking backpack to her fear of being sexually violated in the woods – left viewers this desire to lend a hand, to help her stand. But this was exactly the point of the film, of Cheryl, and of the trek: to make us realise that at that point of her life, the only person who can help her was herself.
In the middle of gigantic forest trees, creaking sounds, and calm waters, she found herself fully re-assessing her life – unapologetically recounting stories in her head of her destructive behaviour, from turning into drugs and sleeping with a heroin addict to being awfully condescending to her mother.
Her mom, played by Laura Dern, was a woman filled with hope and joy despite having suffered through an abusive marriage and having to raise kids alone. Laura Dern’s soft eyes and her voice that had this nurturing tranquility embodied a mother so graceful that you instantly feel an inexplicable empathy towards her.
Cheryl left lines from poetry books and novels at the registration posts of every trail stop. Most of these were lines from women writers that seemed like a soulful chant she recited out loud every so often – a constant reminder to hear the voice within her, a voice cut loose from the shackles of what society expected of her.
While getting lost in the woods or going on a hike after a difficult time in a character’s life seems like a trite film trope, Wild doesn’t offer the typical grand revelation at the end of the film. Instead, it simply let Cheryl finish the trek with a seemingly renewed sense of all that is possible.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.