A stylish, expedient cinematic implement, montages are typically overused and often poorly executed. The most common of montages are time-action sequences, simply a collection of artless clips cut together with a blaring pop song of a strong synthesising beat, masking all dialogue and used only to signify time progression. But in Wild, we find the rare composition of a film constructed as a montage itself, a fluid presentation of events, of reality, intercepted by the contents of our minds. And the result is spectacular. Flashbacks are cut together roughly with only their remembered, natural sounds, the noises of that atmosphere and those words and that rain. Chronology is all but abandoned, the film a colour-lit mosaic of nightmares, memories, motivations, events and actual thoughts, so by seeing into her convoluted mind, we can best understand all that is Cheryl Strayed. This is deeply personal cinema: you will soar with her triumphs and suffer through her losses. Spirited and moving, but never cloyingly sentimental, Wild is a visual, fervent feast and a dark mediation of life's heaviest, most potent moments.
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a woman built on the unwavering, ever-present love and strength of her mother, Bobbi Grey (Laura Dern). So when Strayed's mother is lost abruptly to a short fight with cancer, chaos transpires. Once an intellectual, vibrant woman Strayed succumbs to short-term pain relief. She grips onto anything, whether it be drugs or meaningless sex, that will allow her to forget, to dream, to live subconsciously, to never experience the full punch of life. Devout of hope, her marriage dismantled, Strayed embarks on a 1000-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in a bid to "walk herself back to the woman her mother thought she was", alone, with no experience but every intention to have this physical struggle bring an end to her mental one.
As Strayed loses herself to heroin and sexual promiscuity, the timeline blurs. Time skips ahead at unannounced intervals, sound fades out, even the visuals are unclear, beautifully synonymous to Strayed's own perception of the events. The cost of her destructive behaviour is the toll of relationships, the human connections which blink and disappear. Her husband attempts to salvage her but checks out, her friend is distraught and her brother is all but vanished. Witherspoon inhabits this complex character with veritable ease. There is something natural about the way she carries the script, like she was meant to say these words, like they were born of her mind and raced to her lips. The character, Strayed, lives in every word spoken, every movement, every hesitation - she is simply immersed in Cheryl Strayed. Laura Dern as Strayed's beloved mother is a wonder of a supporting act. With limited writing to her character, Dern nonetheless never feels restrained or prosaic. In every minute of screen time, she is consistently engaging, poignant and critically tangible.
Last year, director Jean-Marc Vallée graced audiences with a confronting biopic of AIDS sufferer, Ron Woodrof in Dallas Buyers Club, similarities with Wild found in its supreme editing style and intense focus on its characters. What appears to be Vallée's cinematic distinction is his intimate, well-crafted character studies. He challenges us to identify with a individuals none devoid of weakness or flaws. These are people who have made questionable choices in life, they have survived in dark worlds of compromise and debauchery. Vallée shows how consequences are swift in catching up with them, the fascination keyed on their responses. Knowing that only so much can be actually presented within two hours, Vallée masters the art of subtle depth and layering. Everything is implied, allowing the audience to construe what they may. Brief interludes are provided of various stages in Strayed's story, her childhood, her adolescence, her marriage, her divorce. Like a well-written novel, the abstract, evocative quality acts as a launchpad for imagination, the holes in the story are ours to fill.
Part of the allure of Wild is the blatant specificity of Strayed's reason for embarking on her trek. Motivations for previous adventurers or pilgrims such as Track's Robyn Davidson and the ill-fated Christopher McCandless (or Alexander Supertramp) of Into Wild, - were purely conceptual or at least speculative. But Strayed's purpose is clearly defined from the very beginning and reinforced throughout, unusual yet nicely resolute.
A layered story of personal redemption, the conclusive product of Wild is a resounding put-together of fantastic music (Paul McCartney, Simon & Garfunkel), poetry, riveting recollection and desperately present experience. Wild is also wondrously apt in verifying the simple potency of cinematic storytelling, reminding us that limits are meant to be questioned and that grief is a hauntingly unpredictable creature.