It has been my practice since the start of this millennium to see a movie on either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. At the top of my current must-see list was Foxcatcher, but when i noticed that there was a morning showing of Wild that would end around the time the first showing of Foxcatcher began, i decided to be especially good to myself and see both, since i am woefully behind in my moviegoing this season. I hadn't read Cheryl Strayed's memoir, on which the film is based, and honestly knew very little about the story, besides the fact that it was about a woman who goes on an epic walk-about. Somewhere in the back of my mind, i feared that it was one of those self-indulgent stories about a woman who has the money and leisure time to go off on a spiritual quest to solve problems that seem far less pressing than my own. Nevertheless, i knew that Wild had gotten good reviews and was being nominated for several awards, so i thought it would be a good lead-in to the main feature. As things turned out, i was so moved by Wild that i had to postpone Foxcatcher until another day so that i could savor the mood a little longer.
There are movies that are fun to write about, whether it is because of their aesthetics, their history, the compelling performances, or just because they tell a good story. Then there are movies that I find it very difficult to write about because i connect with them on such a personal level that i can't even say if they are "good" by objective standards or not. I'm pretty certain that Wild is a "good" movie, but i'm even more certain that it was the best movie i could have chosen to see today. It touched me in a way that few movies have, perhaps in part because when i was young and -- like the protagonist -- dealing with grief in some very un-therapeutic ways, i too dreamed of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, of losing myself in the beauty of the natural world and challenging myself in its unforgiving terrain. But i never did.
There is, of course, a long tradition of losing oneself in the wilds, whether it be Dante's midlife crisis, Thoreau's rather tame wilderness of Walden Pond, or even Christopher McCandless's ill-fated trek to Alaska. But it is, as the old Joe Jackson song says, different for girls. There are a whole additional array of terrors in the form of men who may or may not be predators, which any woman who has been out there on her own is bound to have encountered at least once. And the film does a good job of capturing that substratum of anxiety that requires a woman who undertakes a solitary quest like this one to have an additional layer of courage, beyond what is needed to face the physical challenges of the environment and the psychological challenges of having all that time alone with her own thoughts, memories, and regrets.
Above all else, this movie felt honest to me: honest in the weariness, determination, and occasional terror of Reese Witherspoon's performance; honest in the graceful and ephemeral presence of Laura Dern as the mother whose death she still mourns; and honest in the bruises, the pain, and the triumph of a life-restoring journey.