starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Thomas Sadoski
directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
screenplay by Nick Hornby
Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, Reece Witherspoon portrays Strayed’s therapeutic trek on America’s Pacific Coast Trail, a hiking trail stretching from Mexico to the Canadian border. Following the traumatic death of her mother at a fairly young age Strayed’s life went all to hell. She left school, she left her marriage, and she left life as most people know it to challenge herself to survive against Nature - a kind of cleansing, spiritual-healing-through-nature thing.
I’m gonna walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was.
I think I’m lonelier in my real life than I am out here.
Witherspoon performs without makeup. When you’re so used to seeing stars in full make-up and dress, her unadorned face was an unsettling thing. I mean, she still looked okay, but not like the Hollywood star everyone knows. She looks like Nature Girl, with body odour and body hair. Interestingly, throughout the entire trek she never wore sunscreen and never suffered from sunburn. Also, there was practically no wildlife to be seen. I think that was a mistake.
It reminds me of the 2007 film Into the Wild (directed by Sean Penn, starring Emile Hirsch, based on a 1996 biography), another true story about, Christopher McCandless who in 1992 journeyed alone into Alaskan wilderness in order to ‘find himself,’ only to die of exposure and starvation. The jackass. Another is the 2010 movie 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle, starring James Franco), based on the 2004 book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. Another is the 1975 film The Other Side of the Mountain (directed by Larry Peerce, starring Marilyn Hassett) based on the true story of ski champion Jill Kinmott (died 2012) who was paralyzed in a downhill ski accident described in the book A Long Way Up by E.G. Valens. One more is the 1972 Western Jeremiah Johnson (directed by Sydney Pollack, starring Robert Redford).
I’m sure this isn’t just an American thing - these biographical survival dramas. I know that Englishmen have a long history of attraction to desolate places - the Antarctic, unsettled Africa, African and Arabian deserts, Canadian wilderness, etc. - and many people from other countries succumb to the wandering/trekking/escape bug. But Americans excel at making movies about it - movies that describe the American myth self-reinvention.
It’s interesting - and there is some humour - watching Cheryl grow, to learn how to hike long distances, how to camp, how to pitch a tent, cook, deal with wildlife, protect herself when she encounters strangers, even evacuate. Along the way she is greeted with enthusiastic support from other hikers, and assistance from strangers. The scene I like most was a rest stop at a camping area where a Nature veteran helps her lighten her load by pointing out unnecessary things in her backpack. Does she really need to be carrying dozens of condoms? I understand that it’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have then, but … really? A dozen? LOL.