The apparent ironic nature of this post is not lost on me. You see the purpose of this post is the very same reason that I started here.
The book Wild landed on the shelf at the library with my name poking out the top because of the buzz surrounding the movie. I was a movie buff in a former life. I’m lucky if I can stay awake past 10:00pm and not miss the hour prior to the credits rolling. And, movie theatre outings have become an even more unrealistic budget stretch when babysitting costs are accounted for.
But, I have always been and always will be a lover of books. I love reading. I love getting lost in the words that magnificently wind together to create stories of characters you can “live” with. And, if given the choice between a book and the “film based on the original book” – I will inevidably opt for the book.
The book Wild by Cheryl Strayed is fantastic. Absolutely spot-on. A gritty story of fierce determination and stupendous naïveté. It is a humbling example of the necessary steps one has to take to pick up the pieces of life in the aftermath of great personal tragedy. And, it painfully illustrates the effect of horrible coping mechanisms that are used to shut out the pain.
The wall that was put up to block out this “reality” was takenndown one brick at a time, one step at a time on a 1,100-mile journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.
The book was beautiful. It was a seamless weaving of people’s stories. Sentences upon paragraphs upon pages that introduced us to the individual. The person behind the choices, behind the mistakes. The one who was lost. Profoundly lost in the black hole of grief and youth.
The movie missed its mark by a landslide.
It was humorous to see the anatomically correct monstrous backpack suffocatingly large on Reese Witherspoon’s petite frame. It was lovely to see some of the scenery of the trail and give place to the descriptive text of the book. The scene with the bow-hunters of questionable intentions was full of tangible fear and heart-stopping coldness. These parts were good, really good.
But, that’s where it ended.
When you take a book and make the choice to broadcast the story onto the big screen, you are appealing to a different audience. Perhaps it’s people who don’t want to read 300+ pages from start to finish. Or, perhaps it’s people who only want instant gratification and a condensed version that is full of the highlighted bullet points.
If this is so, then the movie accomplished this. It pulled out the half dozen cataclysmic events in the book and shottedly held them together with loose crumbly mortar.
There is no way to accurately reveal the endurance and determination that it takes to hike every.single.day for miles on end. There is no way to show the toll that endless heat, brutal elevation changes and body battering conditions leave on a person.
There is no way to fully grasp the all-consuming loneliness of such a trek solo. Or the inevitable time for reflection that happens. The very things that saved Cheryl from herself. And, made her the person she was when she reached the Bridge of the Gods.
The viewer is left watching a movie reel punctuated by heroin addiction, promiscuous and disturbingly raunchy sex, a strangely absent marriage to what appears to be a good man and a handful of undeveloped characters who appear along the trails.
Then there’s the familial relationship and the deep love between mother and daughter. We are left scratching our heads and wondering what the significance is of the horse’s euthanization. And, questioning the sanity of someone who eats another’s cremated remains.
All of these pieces fit the puzzle and are key to the bigger pictures. But, without the support of the surrounding details, they loose their place and validity. They become a pawn of shock value.
And, in that place of shock we forget Cheryl.
The individual and the story.
Everything the book was. And, the movie never will be.