In the film, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), loses her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), to cancer when she's only 22. This huge loss hits Cheryl like an avalanche and sends her on a downward spiral of drugs and promiscuous, extramarital sex. But Cheryl knows she has an inner strength hiding somewhere beneath all the sadness and grief. The fact that she manages to tap into this is truly inspiring.
Many of us know that the unexpected death of a loved one can throw us for a spiritual loop, whether we're religious or not. Cheryl wasn't raised with religion and she's feeling adrift as she tries to attach meaning to the loss of her mother. Hitting the outdoors is a great way to understand and experience the power and beauty of nature. From the relentless desert to the ebbing rivers, nature can be cruel, but also full of renewal.
Cheryl is in so much pain from the loss of her mother and her failed marriage that she turns to hard drugs, like heroin, for relief. Deciding to hike 1,100 miles sounds extreme, but it's a much better way to physically sublimate that pain.
Some part of Cheryl knew she could do better than destroying her life by taking drugs and having sex with strangers. She allowed that little, hopeful part inside herself to thrive when she set the goal of hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trial. Watching her journey makes us feel like we want to do better, too.
So many movies depict women in distress who need a knight in shining armor to rescue them. Not Cheryl. She goes on a solo sojourn, risking life and limb to conquer her own inner demons, because somehow, she knows no one else can do that for her
Most movies that deal with death usually show a woman mourning for the loss of a man. Wild is about a woman's journey to deal with the loss of her mother — something many of us relate to, but rarely see mirrored on the big screen.
From her fearless nudity in the raw sex scenes, to the choice not to be heavily made up, Witherspoon gives the best performance of all her adult roles. Oscar will no doubt be calling again.
Cheryl grew up without her father, so it makes sense that seeking sexual attention from men would be a way for her subconscious to fill that paternal void. When her mother dies, however, she takes it to the extreme by cheating on her husband with strangers. She realizes that men are toxic to her in this vulnerable state and decides to mostly stay away from them while on the hike.
Both physically and metaphorically, Cheryl starts her journey with a ton of baggage. Her pack is so heavy, she can barely lift it. She mistakenly thinks she needs all the ridiculous things she's carrying on her back to survive. But here's the most inspirational part — she doesn't. In fact, getting rid of the stuff helps her thrive. The scene where she finally prunes her pack is an absolute delight to watch.
Wild opens in limited release on Dec. 5.
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