Showing posts with label cheryl strayed. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheryl strayed. Show all posts

Monday, February 2, 2015

Wild (2014)

Wild movie book review
Photo Credit: Wild / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Experiences have a way of building up inside of us, especially ones that are traumatic such as repressing the loss of a loved one or causing pain onto others as a way of trying to deal with our own. We also make choices that feel are beyond the point or opportunity to be reconciled.

At the tender age of twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed loses her mother unexpectedly to lung cancer. Faced the absence of the glue that held the family together, Strayed is alone and overwhelmed with grief. Suffering from a heroin addiction, sleeping with multiple partners, and divorced from her husband, she attempts to reconcile her bereavement by trekking Pacific Crest Trail - a 2,650-mile hike spanning California to Washington.

Raw, vulnerable and transformative, Wild is a rare unfiltered film centering a female protagonist and her quest for redemption. Based on the best-selling memoir (one of my favorite books last year), director Jean-Marc Valle's latest film brings the author's journey to life with organic showmanship.

Valle's vision for Wild treads deep into the visceral absorption of grief, compassion, and self-acceptance, and how nature can gift or we can give ourselves the opportunity to examine how we may be lost. It's almost a dizzying experience to become so enraptured with the unvarnished vulnerability which Strayed not only exposed to us in her memoir but how the director captures her story without kid-gloves. Strayed's torturous physical quest shoulders the haunting memories that consume her, and through finely-paced flashbacks, has the unique ability to make us lose ourselves in that sorrow. Though the cinematography is breathtaking, the environment is never a forced idyllic paradise. The story's conflict itself is not about the obstacles Strayed faces on her travels, nor even making it one from destination to another, but the inner journey she is forging one step at a time.

For Strayed, many events in her life were beyond her control. As a child, she watched her mother recover from a physically abusive relationship with an alcoholic husband, and as an adult, had to help her mom during her illness. In-between, they were best friends locked in a relationship of perpetual daughterly entitlement and motherly optimism. To help her deal with the loss, Strayed tries to temporarily fulfill her anguish such as quickies, brief affairs, and drugs. The hike becomes a freeing shift from the doubts and remorse that held her hostage to  face what it means to forgive herself and be forgiven.

A great credit to the film's vulnerability is Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, both who deliver honest and gritty performances as Strayed, and her mother Bobby, respectively. The former portrays her protagonist over a variety of ages from teenager to young adult, all with an intense range of adolescent annoyance, emotional despair, and finally, liberation. Witherspoon's performance is nothing short of refreshing and layered after a few years of her work seesawing between critically praised and scorned. The latter is only scattered in the film primarily in Strayed's flashbacks, but magically conveys a mother's affirming love in her daughter and utmost faith in the world despite the battles she's faced. Not a scene shared between them or filmed separately goes unwasted. Both I dare say are more than worthy of the 2015 Oscar nominations they nabbed.

Quite literally living out in the middle of nowhere, I'm still plagued by the sound of the rest of the world, and sometimes even worse, my own mind. My most freeing moments is when I can silence it all by surrounding myself in nature. Ambitiously, Strayed is in search of, not a happy ending, but a better ending for herself and the one her mother always hoped for. Refreshingly, it's a wake-up call to those who plague themselves with doubts or regrets.  I don't think anyone should go entirely unprepared to hike the coast without training or knowledge of the great outdoors, or that everyone reaches whole peacefulness from a hike, but the story - both the book and the movie - prompts us to ask if could we find ourselves away from the invasive outside world. What if we gave ourselves the opportunity or an adventure to seek what might bother us underneath the surface and let it be?

One of the greatest joys in Wild is that it is decidedly un-Hollywood for a female protagonist to exert so much effort in liberating herself - from essentially - herself, and to do so because of the struggle of losing someone maternal rather than a romantic interest. The intention of Strayed's hike has nothing to do with the Hollywood fare we normally witness in a female character tangled up in romantic interests, materialism, and the outside world. It's not exactly the kind of movie that might attract a lot of attention or praise; a character sorting herself out in the middle of nowhere. But watching a character's candid heartbreak becomes an intensely rich and cathartic drama. A whole relationship between Strayed, herself, her mother, and the ghosts of her past develops, crumbles, and reaffirms itself in a few short hours (for the real Cheryl Strayed almost 100 days) - but it's the emotional and cinematic journey that will rest with me forever.
Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Wild? What do you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At age twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed had lost her mother Bobbi to cancer, who she considered to be the love of her life. Her brother, sister, and step-father essentially drifted apart after Bobbi passed away and was the glued that held them together. Strayed became an heroine addict and cheated on her husband with multiple partners to the point where her confession led to their divorce. The trip alongside the Pacific Crest Trail is one of purging her spirit of things that had happened to her, and understanding how she ended up where she is by taking one long physically-emotionally exhausting path to do so.

Strayed provides a wonderful narrative of her life that is both broken and solid. There is a trend in Hollywood and literature that females are not considered adults, therefore have to baby up their language, sexuality, brains, and humor in order to gain a wider audience. Strayed had so much baggage it feels like you were wearing her overstuffed mountain gear along with her as she shares her experiences of cheating, her mother's death, and her family's undoing. So many of her passages emanate the loss of what she went through, and Strayed doesn't glamorize her experiences or push specific spiritual lessons for the readers. It's her journey and we're along for the ride. There is no beating around the bush with her blunders nor her desires, and I liked that Strayed is of a young adult woman's voice is - honest, tormented, humorous, grateful, and enlightened.

Such a major attraction to this memoir is the search for discovery through a singular experience with yourself, and not allowing obstacles in the form of addiction, broken family relationships, etc. stop you. Nature has a way of enveloping us into its arms, if we allow it do so, and Strayed's experience is one that allows us to see the possibilities of what a trip like this can offer us - the solitude, the resolutions, the inner reckoning. Way back when in the early eighties when audiences saw Top Gun (starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer) and immediately wanted to become an Army pilot, I read this book and won't be ashamed to say that I am inspired to do something similar - to take a trip somewhere and sort myself out. It is not to replicate Strayed's experience nor to see if trekking solo lives up to the idyllic poetic imagery this book served but more for my own sanity and thirst for adventure/self-reconciliation too. Going through a ton of shit myself, I envied and was emboldened by her choice to deal with her demons in this way. To be ignited enough in her life by her mistakes, the grief of her family, and emotional pain of her past to gain a clearer understanding of who she is.

One thing should be of note with this book is that Strayed's experience is extraordinarily rare. Using guidebooks and having zero experience to hike, this woman completed her mission entirely underplanned. Her boots were too small. She arranged for a friend to send her care packages with twenty dollars at different rest stops; often leaving her with only a few cents in her pocket to get between towns. It's easy to read this and think that she should have been more prepared, but we are living in a different age of technology with cellphones at fingertips. I can't criticize the choices Strayed made, but I think it's a fair warning to those who might be encouraged to read this review to consider your full range of options before trying a trek of this magnitude on your own or with friends. She made plenty of friends and acquaintances along her trip that helped her but many of them are occurrences where her life and physically well-being were in danger. To read her journey from beginning to end, it's almost unimaginable to comprehend how she survived.

The most poignant aspect is how Strayed deals with her mother's death and how it led to her abandoning herself through addictions to companionship, sexuality, drugs, and validation. Far from chick lit, or even chick flick, this book is a refreshing memoir and story of a woman who has muddled big time and needs to reconcile all the parts of her life that has become brutally undone. The story is as much as an adventurous trek as it is deep spiritual or personal reflection for Strayed. It easily became one of my favorite books of the year.

Coming to theatres in December 2014 starring Reese Witherspoon, I am so excited to see the adaptation of Wild in the coming months.  Directed by Jean-Marc VallĂ©e (The Dallas Buyers Club), and premiering during the Toronto Film Festival, has already garnered the movie rave reviews for Witherspoon. It's coming out on my birthday week, and I can't think of no other way of being excited to see it and go on the quest into the wild...except to plan my own excursion to take one day too.