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Wild (2014)

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I'm highly skeptical of this story, but... for the record, this apparently made a splash a Telluride.

 

The trailer does nothing for me, and my good friend who just finished hiking the entire Pacific Crest trail thinks it looks "awful."

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I have heard the book is rather good. Not sure if it would be the basis for a good film, if it's a book-to-film kinda film. I too found the trailer very meh.

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I have heard the book is rather good. Not sure if it would be the basis for a good film, if it's a book-to-film kinda film. I too found the trailer very meh.

Grrr...

 

Isn't there someplace on this board where I declared how much I loathed this book? And yet, I read the whole thing.

 

I guess it wasn't in this thread.

 

I like Reese Witherspoon and think the movie could work, or at least not piss me off.

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Tyler wrote:
: I was thinking we already had a thread for this, but I was confusing it with Tracks, this year's other "woman hikes for a long time" movie.

 

*Last* year's, actually. (That's when I saw it at the local film festival.) Though I guess it might not have had a general release until this year.

 

It looks like Wild will get a release on December 5, no doubt to capitalize on Oscar season. So it'll get a general release the same year it plays the festivals.

 

Links to our threads on Jean-Marc Vallée's earlier films The Young Victoria (2009), Café de Flore (2011) and Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

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I heard good things about the book, but I returned the audio version after listening to about an hour - just wasn't my cuppa.

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I have heard the book is rather good. Not sure if it would be the basis for a good film, if it's a book-to-film kinda film. I too found the trailer very meh.

Grrr...

 

Isn't there someplace on this board where I declared how much I loathed this book? And yet, I read the whole thing.

 

I guess it wasn't in this thread.

 

I like Reese Witherspoon and think the movie could work, or at least not piss me off.

 

So, if you follow me or Alissa W. or Peter on Twitter, you may have seen an exchange about this movie today in which I revealed how strongly I disliked it.

 

I'm posting here because my own reaction to this story isn't widely shared -- among secular critics or Christian critics, as far as I can tell -- and that troubles me. It's not that I wish everyone agreed with me, but more that I couldn't see past my own dislike of Cheryl Strayed to see any benefit the book or movie might have to offer. I can do this with sinful protagonists in other books and movies, but not here. And, again, that bothers me.

 

I found her behavior repulsive and inexcusable. I know that's judgmental; I'm confessing this, not admiring it or encouraging others to join me. I just found her to be a terrible person.

 

And that's sad. Sad for me, because if I knew Cheryl in real life I'd like to think I'd be compassionate toward her. Compassion hasn't historically been my strong suit, mind you, but I like to think I've made a lot of progress in that area over the years, as I've wrestled through my own weaknesses and struggles.

 

But then something like this comes along, and I become a Pharisee. I can't stand this woman. And worst of all, after all the human wreckage she causes, she concludes that she needs to learn to forgive herself.

 

This appalls me. Again, self-forgiveness was a concept I came to grudgingly as a Christian, but I got there, or thought I did. It's important not to hold ourselves in contempt when God doesn't do that. I want to embrace and admire Cheryl for getting there before I did (even though her motives might not be my motives, of course, and her forgiveness not rooted in Christian concepts, as mine is).

 

But there are times where forgiveness needs to come from others first, maybe exclusively, and it's here where Wild fails, unless, in a red-eyed rage, I missed something. I don't frankly care whether Cheryl forgives herself. She needs forgiveness from others - from her husband, primarily (who seems passive and accepting of their divorce in the film).

 

So, I miss the inspiration, or whatever, of self-forgiveness here. I still don't like Cheryl Strayed at the end of Wild -- the book or the film. That may make me a bad Christian and a terrible person, but still, I don't like her. And I don't like the movie -- or the book.

 

How's that for a mature, detached critical assessment of this story?

Edited by Christian

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One more thing. When I finished the audiobook of Wild, I went to rate it at GoodReads and looked at a few of the reviews posted there. This one, near the top, made me laugh out loud and exclaim, "Exactly!"

 

 
A self-absorbed, ill-prepared woman, 26 years old, leaves her husband (a decent guy) for no good reason, mucks her life up even further with drugs and reckless sex, then engages in some vacuous navel-gazing on the Pacific Crest Trail. As a woman hiking alone she gets all kinds of special treatment and help from fellow hikers. She loses a few pounds, gets some muscles and some sun-bleached hair and calls her work done.

 

165 comments follow that review.

Edited by Christian

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That GoodReads review is hilarious.

 

I saw Wild at the VIFF two months ago, and I wish I could say I remember it better, but I don't remember much beyond a vague sense that I liked Tracks (last year's woman-on-a-long-trek movie, which I saw in the very same theatre at last year's VIFF) better.

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Seeing it Wednesday.

Christian, can I ask, what was your reaction--if you saw it--to either the book or movie of Eat, Pray, Love

 

I've neither read nor seen it, but I keep reading comparisons to it in Wild reviews -- comparisons that are favorable to Wild.

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About 10 minutes in I turned to my friend and said, "If she goes through this whole movie without a hat and never once putting on sunscreen, I don't think I can go higher than 1 1/2 stars."

So that's how I broke on this one.

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About 10 minutes in I turned to my friend and said, "If she goes through this whole movie without a hat and never once putting on sunscreen, I don't think I can go higher than 1 1/2 stars."

So that's how I broke on this one.

We all have our breaking points.

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I didn't HATE the movie. But I didn't change my mind much from the first scene, which made me say out loud (in a sparsely occupied theater) "What a stupid woman." I think I was supposed to sympathize with her, but it didn't work. Now I admit that I could not have hiked that trail, but if I were going to try, I would have prepared better and (as Ken said) worn a hat and sunscreen. At the same time, I can see the validity of Alissa Wilkinson's review, and I did find some sympathy for the protagonist, but in terms of a woman's wilderness ordeal movie, I'm hoping for better from Tracks.

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Well, I very much liked this film, for a number of reasons, including: 

- very well crafted - nice blending of memory and present activity

- I thought Nick Hornby did a solid job with the screenplay

- it's a thoughtful film about Pilgrimages and Memory (nudge, nudge)

- I bought into the whole self-transformation thing - she freely admits she's become a 'piece of shit' and is clearly a better person by the time the credits roll

 

Anywho, here's my review:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/1morefilmblog/wild-jean-marc-vallee-2014/

 

P.S. I don't think self-forgiveness vs. seeking forgiveness from others is an either/or kind of thing.  The former is essential, and the latter is sometimes unattainable for all sorts of reasons (death of the other, unwillingness to forgive, a need to stay away from a toxic relationship, etc.).  I'm ok that Wild focused fairly exclusively on the former.

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I'm somewhere between Christian and Andrew on this.  I'm fine with a film about a terrible person who isn't completely redeemed just so long as the film acknowledges that the persons choices are wrong, which I believe this film does for the most part.  But this film also leads to think that she is supposed to be redeemed in a way that I don't think she was.

 

My beef isn't the person herself, but how the film handles the character.  There were just so many ideas and character motivations that didn't line up for me.  For example.  I know that she was grieved about her mom, I get that, but why would she go to the extremes of heroine abuse.  There was nothing in the film that would explain why she would take this path of grievance that was so above and beyond what others would take.  But as well, the film didn't make me emphasize with her and her troubles like other films would have.  I should have been deeply impacted by her story, even if she wasn't a likeable person.  I should have been touched by the tragedy that can happen in the human condition, but except for a couple of places at the very end there was little of this for me.  I had thought that maybe I just wasn't in the right mood but reading some of the other thoughts here tells me that the film just wasn't working.

 

Now, lets pretend that she was actually stupid enough to take the journey without a hat.  That might be allowed with a certain character, but the film never gives us enough of an understanding into her motivations or who she is as a person to explain, *why* she would be that stupid.  We don't even know *why* she would have been sleeping around like she did.  Was it because of her troubled issues with her father?  Then the film should have given us some story to link it together.  So then,  she goes on that journey without a hat and manages.  But here's the thing - she's also a recovering heroine addict.  Yet there is little to no example that her body is of anything but at least fairly good health.  In fact, a recovering drug addict had a body that was able to handle that trail better than another hiker who was prepared and healthy.  A recovering drug addict was able to truck along with a pack that another person in the film called "monster"  (if memory serves.)

 

I knew that the film was a little off right at the start when it made such a big deal out of her losing her shoe.  I've done my fair share of hiking, and if I had lost a shoe I would have just left my pack where it was and scrambled down to pick it up.  It wasn't that hard of a scramble.  It didn't fall over the edge of a cliff.  It might have been different if she had just been through incredible trials and this was the breaking point for her.  But there was no real sign of this in what was happening at the start, and then later on we see that her trials on the trail were no greater than anyone elses, not really.  In fact she had people helping her in ways that they weren't helping others.

 

Then later to have that scene depicted in relation to her mother dying from cancer.  It wasn't dramatic enough to be used in that context.  Which was part of the problem for me.  Everything was out of whack.  

 

Then we find out that she had no real growth on her journey, so far as I could see.  She was still sleeping around.  In the context of the story that would have been a place to show growth.  To have her just relate to that guy as a friend.  I'm not so sure how much of a better person she was.  She was friendly and nice to people here and there, but the film had shown her as being that way to people even in her past.  What did she really learn on that trail anyways?  To move past her mother and her husband?  Why should she be the one moving past her husband anyhow, shouldn't it be him moving on past her?  The film also drops that little nugget right near the end without giving us any indication that she was supposed to move past the husband, or was even trying to.  If anything the film was implying that her journey was part of her getting her sh*tte together so that she could move closer to him.  To work things out with a person whom seemed to be a pretty good guy.  It didn't line up.

 

And again.  That's the problem.  There's just so much that doesn't line up, and so much where I should have been feeling emotions such as grief, or even disgust, where the film just didn't take me there.  This film was the type of story which should have had strong existential aspects, but by and large it didn't.

 

It was a film that should have fit the bill perfectly for me.  I *love* the idea of a pilgrimage (or peregrination) with the idea of a sacred journey whereby we gain insights and work through our healing.  I've gone on a few myself, and see peregrinatio as being a microcosm of the macrocosm of our journey though life.  So, this film should have been deeply impacting and meaningful to me, but for the most part it wasn't, and it was directly related to how the filmmakers handled the story.

 

Indeed it was *trying* to be a thoughtful film about memory and healing from past, and its intentions were certainly good so far as I can see.  But for me it was a story that was handled in ways whereby it couldn't pull it off.  I think part of it was the flashback method.  When one reads about screenplays it is advised to keep clear of using a lot of flashbacks because it can throw the audience.  I would think that this film would have worked better if it had started off with her in the drug abuse and failing marriage including scenes of her trying to get her sh*t together and pushing away friends and loved ones in the process, as would be a more realistic view of a drug addict, and progressed towards the pilgrimmage, then this with a few flashbacks to her childhood to piece the motivations and issues together, but with a childhood that would better lead to those particular motivations and her particular issues.  

 

Then, by the time she got to hiking the trail I would have been on board with her and her travails and would have emphasized with her journey out of it.  As it was, it never brought me to any real connection.

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A response from my friend Dr. Luke Reinsma who just finished hiking the PCT.

 

"Reece Witherspoon's backpack must have been full of styrofoam."

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I won't spend a lot of time on this, because I suspect, apropos of Christian's laudably candid comments, if you're predisposed to despise this film and its lead character, then more words won't do much.  But, here comes a half-assed defense (spoilers ahead, by the way):

- If one looks at photos of IRL Cheryl Strayed on the PCT, her pack looks pretty similar to Witherspoon's, and I'm pretty sure Strayed's pack wasn't stuffed with styrofoam.

- This film deeply moved me.  My mother died one week before I departed for college, so I was a bit younger than Strayed when her mother died.  Yet, I can completely relate to how Bobbi's death utterly unmoored Strayed.

- People react differently to loss.  Strayed's father was an alcoholic.  And much as we like to think of ourselves as in control of our choices and destiny, there is an element of genetic determinism to our decisions.  Putting these things together, Strayed was strongly predisposed to react to high stress by self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs.

- I've spent a lot of time professionally detoxing addicts from benzos and opiates.  Some of these folks (especially the younger ones) are remarkably resilient and show little if any bodily ravages from their addictions.

- The film gives us a hint as to why Strayed threw everything away - a baby, a decent marriage, etc. - in the final flashback.  She and her brother failed to care for her mother's beloved horse, and therefore failed to keep a crucial promise to their mother.  Psychologically, I can 100% see how such a failure would lead a person to give up on themselves utterly (esp. as it signifies a complete falling short of a beloved mother's standards) and lead a dissolute life. 

- The judgmentalism displayed towards this film's lead character in many locales - not just here - is simply breathtaking.  I know the opening story in John 8 is borderline canonical, but lordy, some meditation on its message would obviously be salutary.  Strayed's character cries out painfully in one of the film's opening flashbacks, "When did I become a piece of shit?!"  She desperately desires change.  She and her ex-husband have obviously made peace with each other.  She can't make peace with her dead mother, but she clearly repents of her actions towards Bobbi and the horse.  Yes, she screws a relative stranger near the end of the film, but the voiceover epilogue clearly signals that the hike was a character-transforming experience.  I know a "God's Not Dead" style sinner's prayer is not what this discerning group craves here, but I'm wondering what other evidence of transformation would make this tough crowd happy.

- And what the hey, I'll toss this out.  I wonder, too, in reading the reactions here and at GoodReads, if there's a bit of a sexist double standard at play.  A guy sleeps around and tries drugs - he's going through a 'wild phase' or 'sowing wild oats.'  A woman does this, and she's a despicable whore.  (An interesting litmus test for this point might be to examine one's reactions to the male adulterous protagonists of Tuesday, After Christmas or Silent Light; or to gauge your response to the arguably more immature protagonist of High Fidelity [another Nick Hornby product] - were the reactions to these characters as visceral and judgmental?)

- In the aftermath of seeing this film, I've already talked with one viewer for whom Strayed's story closely resembles her own.  Seeing this story onscreen was a deeply cleansing experience.  I'm quite happy to accept with grace the value of this film for such individuals, as I've had several films provide similar emotional and psychological breakthroughs for me.     

Edited by Andrew

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- And what the hey, I'll toss this out.  I wonder, too, in reading the reactions here and at GoodReads, if there's a bit of a sexist double standard at play.  A guy sleeps around and tries drugs - he's going through a 'wild phase' or 'sowing wild oats.'  A woman does this, and she's a despicable whore.  (An interesting litmus test for this point might be to examine one's reactions to the male adulterous protagonists of Tuesday, After Christmas or Silent Light; or to gauge your response to the arguably more immature protagonist of High Fidelity [another Nick Hornby product] - were the reactions to these characters as visceral and judgmental?)

     

 

I'm not really buying this part of the argument. Certainly I got some of the same sorts of comments/complaints when I championed Dallas Buyers Club last year. While I am sympathetic in general that a Faludi-style backlash can negatively impact female-led stories (see Eat Pray Love link above), I'm skeptical this is at play here or is more pronounced among Christian readers. Who doesn't like a good (i.e. well written) redemption arc?

 

If some of the catty comments surrounding the film focus on the details of the hike, perhaps that is because one tends to notice those things when the central character arc is so unengaging. I don't know that this is much different than my rolling my eyes at the scene in Unbroken where guys are shot down, drifting in the ocean, and all have permed hair and impeccable make up. 

 

I felt predisposed to like the film. Valee's last film brought me to tears. But the structure of the film didn't work for me. You were introduced to her low points and brokenness only in retrospect, after she had begun to turn things around...it felt like the decision to hike the PCT was what turned things  around rather than the hike itself in which she doesn't really learn things other than to ditch her camera. She seemed to skip over whatever step in AA/NA requires trying to make amends to those you''ve wronged. (It goes from her admitting she is a "piece of shit" to her pronouncing herself a better person). Of course that latter arc is common, I think, in divorces, where some people might find it easier to start over than to fix what they've broken. And hey, sometimes you cant, because it is broken irrevocably. That may be the case here, but we don't really see her try. The book  quotes had an air of self-congratulation about them that worked against the film. Like she was the first person in the world who read Robert Frost? (I suspect, but don't know, that in the book there is more time to develop some of the ideas in her reading and how they were important to her and helped her in her growth/recovery; the film settles for poetry/literature at the most surface level. "I have miles to go before I sleep.")

 

Still, I digress from my main point which is that my disregard for the film was on artistic rather than moral grounds. I didn't hate her; I just didn't much like the way her story was told. 

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I'm not saying such a reaction is more pronounced among Christian readers/viewers.  Granted, it's only one review, but Alissa Wilkinson's positive review at CT indicates this is not the case; and as far as I know, GoodReads (which has a mixed bag of commentary on the book, some quite venomous) is not sectarian.

 

Your point about Reese Witherspoon's appearance is well-taken.  For someone who supposedly smelled disgusting when back in the real world, she looked rather pretty throughout the film.

 

We'll have to agree to disagree about the structure of the film, I suppose.  It worked quite well for my wife and me.  The focus of her peacemaking was on the relationship with her deceased mother, and from that standpoint, the structure of the film (building up to her final memory about how she and her brother let her mother down) made perfect sense.  The hike as therapy in which she comes to terms with various memories was very convincing, IMO.  

 

There's every indication that she and her ex-husband had already made peace with each other, well before the film commenced.  I base this on a few points of evidence:  1) they talk candidly about her infidelities; 2)they're on good enough terms that they end their marriage by getting tattoos together (I'm a bit envious; neither of my major splits were anywhere near that amicable); 3) they're friendly enough that he's a main contact person for her at breaks in her hiking.

Edited by Andrew

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ken Morefield said:  

 

I felt predisposed to like the film.....  But the structure of the film didn't work for me. You were introduced to her low points and brokenness only in retrospect, after she had begun to turn things around...it felt like the decision to hike the PCT was what turned things  around rather than the hike itself 

 

 

Yes.  This also fits with my suggestion that the film should have started with some of the story that was told in flashback and then progressed to the hike.

 

 

Ken Morefield said:  

 

:my disregard for the film was on artistic rather than moral grounds. I didn't hate her; I just didn't much like the way her story was told. 

 

 

Me as well.

 

 

 

 

Andrew said:  

 

People react differently to loss.  Strayed's father was an alcoholic.  And much as we like to think of ourselves as in control of our choices and destiny, there is an element of genetic determinism to our decisions.  

 

 

No huge disagreement with what you've said here.  But then the film should have shown it to us.  We should have something to hang our hats on as to why she was behaving this way.  I would want to understand her motivations more.  Yet, I didn't understand most of her motivations in the film.  It didn't even give us an understanding of why she decided to go on the hike.  Yeah, I know that she was dealing with her issues, but why that place at that time?  She had briefly indicated that she had done some hiking, but even that was unsure.  But was it enough to lead her to consider this?  

 

Which is the problem all the way through the film.  There isn't anything given to lead us to truly understanding her motivations, and without that it's harder to emphasize with the character.  I think it somewhat fits with the mantra of "show don't tell."  

 

If her issues were connected to her father's alchoholism then there would have been great dramatic effect with her sorting through these connections.  I shouldn't have been left so confused as to her motivations.  It should have been shown to me, not in a way where It was too obvious, true, but in a way where her actions are related to something earlier in her storyline in a believable way.

 

 

 

Andrew said: 

 

: I've spent a lot of time professionally detoxing addicts from benzos and opiates.  Some of these folks (especially the younger ones) are remarkably resilient and show little if any bodily ravages from their addictions.

 

 

I spent a couple of years helping with an addictions ministry in the early two thousands.  It seems to me that those recovering from Cocaine addiction would have been able to fare better than heroine addiction.  I became friends with one of the recovering heroine addicts, and the guy's system was a mess.

 

But again, this is one of my issues with the film.  It had an opportunity to increase her drama by showing us the effects on her, but it didn't.  One would think that this would be something a film like this would want to do.  I would have been interested in a film about a recovering drug addict foolishly attempting something well beyond her capabilities and the film showing us her working through her issues on the hike.

 

But it never really brought us through her recovery process and thus her biggest prediciment on that trail was losing a shoe, when it could have been, in part, showing her working her way out of the last stages of a recovery from a heroine addiction.

 

See what I'm getting at?

 

 

 

Andrew said:  The film gives us a hint as to why Strayed threw everything away - a baby, a decent marriage, etc. - in the final flashback.  She and her brother failed to care for her mother's beloved horse, and therefore failed to keep a crucial promise to their mother.  Psychologically, I can 100% see how such a failure would lead a person to give up on themselves utterly (esp. as it signifies a complete falling short of a beloved mother's standards) and lead a dissolute life. 

 

 

I can't really see it, but I acknowledge that you know more about this than me.  Again though, I want more to hang my hat on.  I want to see the effects of that lead her on the progression downhill.  Again, somewhat fitting with the mantra of "show don't tell."

 

 

 

Andrew said: 

 

:The judgmentalism displayed towards this film's lead character in many locales - not just here - is simply breathtaking.  I know the opening story in John 8 is borderline canonical, but lordy, some meditation on its message would obviously be salutary.  Strayed's character cries out painfully in one of the film's opening flashbacks, 

 

 

 

But the problem is how the film handled the character.  I can and have most certainly emphasized with this sort of character, connected to the afore mentioned drug addictions ministry.  I became friends with several of them and emphasized with their journey a great deal, and it's not as though these folks weren't making some pretty horrendous mistakes.  

 

But this film never brought me to that place within the context of the film experience.  

 

 

 

Andrew said: 

 

:but I'm wondering what other evidence of transformation would make this tough crowd happy.

 

 

 

Show us more of her journey into and out of her troubles.  Not just that it happened.  But let me follow along with the journey in a way through which I could connect with her motivations, through which I could emphasize with her journey in the context of the film's world.   

 

 

 

 

:but the voiceover epilogue clearly signals that the hike was a character-transforming experience. 

 

 

And there's the main problem.  It was a voiceover, not something that was shown to us in the conext of her journey, not really.  Again, "show don't tell."

 

 

 

-

 

The film "told" us that she had various stuff happen to her through the flashbacks, but it never "showed" me this or the motivations behind what was going on in a way that could draw me in.  It needed to show me more of her journey in a cause and effect manner.  I needed to see what caused her motivations, and the effects of those actions in a stronger and more apparent way. 

 

I would have wanted the film to show more of her travails when it came to her behaviour.

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