Into the wild, into herself

A true story and raw performances make “Wild” an awe-inspiring drama.

By Zaida Diaz, Staff Writer

“Wild” invites its viewers to join in on a woman’s journey toward redemption: a 1,100-mile hike through the rugged, stunning terrain of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The powerful film digs deep at the soul of a desperate Cheryl Strayed, who’s terrifically portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in arguably her best performance yet. In fact, there is much Oscar buzz circling the actress.

Based on Strayed’s best-selling book, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” the film recounts Cheryl’s deepest memories and fears throughout her solo trip into the wilderness. There, she faced harsh weather, dehydration and the threat of wild animals.

But what on Earth would draw a solo female hiker to set out on a potentially deadly voyage? Cheryl had to purge. Tormented by her own erratic behavior, she felt the need to get away from her chaotic lifestyle.

Cheryl is haunted by her failed relationship with her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) and the loss of her vibrant and loving mother Bobbi, brilliantly personified by Laura Dern – she hopes the thousand-plus-mile trek can exorcise her demons.

Cheryl’s frustration is most evident in the opening scene, when she accidentally drops her boot from a mountain and delivers a gut-wrenching scream — the manifestation of years of self-destructiveness and pain, fired by her harrowing journey.

Witherspoon fearlessly attacks the demanding role, both emotionally and physically. Under the guidance of director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”), the actress actually carried the character’s 75-pound backpack through tough terrain whilst also stripping away her vanity by wearing no make-up. Adding an organic rendition to the picture.

Vallée beautifully depicts Strayed’s journey with hand-held cinematography, natural light, the use of voice-over as inner voice, rather than exposition, and a soundtrack consisting solely of pop music in the recesses of her memory. His approach keeps the audience in tune with the character’s point of view, making the experience of hiking tactile and immediate.

These technical aspects are especially successful in Cheryl’s flashbacks, memories of her mother sparked by familiar music.

In the midst of nature, Cheryl’s mind often drifts back to her mother, and how she “strayed” from the woman she was taught to be. It is only through this spiritual journey in the outdoors that she can can find her way back.

“Wild” explores the relations that are central to who we are as people in a very unique way. It is real, sincere and, most of all, human.

*****

“Wild” opens in theaters December 5

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language

5 stars (out of 5)

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