If you have never felt motivated by one of Geographical’s Explorers stories and contemplated taking off for an adventure in the wild, then this reviewer would be very surprised. Wild, an adaptation from the book of the same name, tells the now-famous real-life experience of one woman who spontaneously swapped the stresses of her normal life for a three-month, 1,000-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State.
This film is not an attempt to romanticise exploration. From Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) first hesitant footsteps, staggering under the weight of her unnecessarily large rucksack, to the blood-soaked socks she pulls off her feet, we, the audience, are unforgivingly forced to face up to the reality of taking off on such an expedition without an adequate level of experience or planning.
Nevertheless, the notion of undertaking such a venture is still presented as highly worthwhile, especially when paralleled, as it is, with an overall sense of someone getting their life in order, as might well be expected from a memoir with the subtitle A Journey from Lost to Found. And every opportunity is taken to show off the striking and ever-changing landscapes of California and the American west coast (therefore we can reasonably expect a surge in popularity for hiking the PCT as a direct consequence of this film). However, by virtue of having a protagonist who is battling her way through these landscapes, we do also see the challenging implications of those rocky cliff faces and snowy hillsides for someone travelling alone at ground level.
The consequences of being unprepared for an expedition of this magnitude, including packing the wrong equipment, or simply not practising with it beforehand, are shown vividly. There are also considerable gender issues investigated; the clear feeling being that ‘the outdoors’ is a male space, a concept to which Strayed’s presence is quite disruptive.
Different audiences will go and watch this film for very different reasons, whether as an Eat, Pray, Love-esque search for the self, or simply to enjoy the story of someone trekking an extremely picturesque part of the world. It’s fair to say there is something for everyone in this regard.