I’m usually skeptical about film adaptations of my favorite books, but after laughing and crying my way through reading Wild last fall, I was thrilled to learn the film was coming out the next month, and now I’m thrilled with the Oscar nominations for Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. Actually, I was skeptical about picking up the book in the first place. I was afraid it would be a downer. The back of the book mentions Cheryl’s mother’s death a few years prior and her subsequent divorce, both of which I’ve also experienced in the past three years; I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there. I’m not always one for solo wilderness accounts, written or filmed. I love being alone in nature, but it takes special talent to relay the inner experience to an audience in a gripping and moving way, or at least without being deathly boring. Cheryl Strayed has that talent.
Wild is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and the film is a faithful and beautiful adaptation. Strayed is funny, honest, and heartbreaking in her portrayal of her 1,000-mile, three-month trek that is physically and emotionally grueling and rewarding. I was drawn in by Strayed’s candor on the first page of chapter one:
“At long last, there was the actual doing it, quickly followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly unprepared to do it. And then there was the real live truly doing it.”
What follows is her humble, wise, and biting account of “real live truly doing it:” the daily struggles, small insights, and beautiful landscapes, as well as remarkable “you can’t make this stuff up” events on the Pacific Crest Trail. Interwoven throughout are flashbacks to the life events that led Strayed to seek this dramatic pilgrimage. For me, the book and film made a compelling case for taking my own journeys of discovery, whether large or small. Witnessing Strayed strip her life bare to face pain and search for meaning has reminded me to make room for grief and continually seek out my own path.
I highly recommend you either read the book, with more detail and backstory, or watch the film, which captures the awe-inspiring views and vastness of Strayed’s journey. Or both. I’m glad I did.