In 1995, a young woman walks most of the 2,000-plus-mile Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from close to the Mexican border all the way up to Washington State. She does this not because she is an adventurer, although her life has certainly seen its share of wild swings up and down, but because she wants to purge herself of all the pain she feels and thus start anew.
Her name is Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), and we learn about her suffering in bits and pieces, lightly strewn throughout the film as memories that come and go to open old wounds and let them heal in the fresh air of the PCT.
The opening scene is a triumph: We meet Strayed a little shy of 200 miles into her trek. Her socks are dripping with blood from boots that are too small, and she is clearly on the verge of utter exhaustion as she reaches the top of a hillside, with unspoiled nature on either side of her. She sits down, pulls out a toenail, retches in pain (the audience does, too), and then the shoe drops.
Actually, it her shoe, and it doesn’t drop as much as it tumbles – hundreds of feet down the side of the hill. We do not even know her name yet, nor anything else about her, but when she unleashes a torrent of obscenities at her predicament, we can somehow identify with her struggles already.
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(Still of Reese Witherspoon in Wild. Photo by Anne Marie Fox – © 2014 – Fox Searchlight Pictures)