Thursday, 26 February 2015

If your Nerve, deny you - Go above your nerve

I made a valiant effort to get through as many of the awards films this year as I could. Although I only managed to watch a handful, I definitely feel like I know the selection a lot better than in previous years. In particular, I found that this year I was attracted to some of the “smaller” names on the nominations lists, the ones which perhaps didn't win all of the awards or run the biggest campaigns, but were quiet and intriguing and, once seen, deeply profound. Selma was one such film. Wild was another.

Wild tells the true story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), a young woman who finds herself trapped in a vicious circle of unhappiness and self-destructive behaviour. Broken-hearted after the death of her beloved mother, Cheryl attempts to numb the pain with heroin and meaningless extramarital affairs, only to find the sense of loss deepened through the loss of her true self and the person she believed her mother raised. Partially to atone, and partially to find and reconnect to herself again, Cheryl sets off on a three month hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, aiming to find hope and peace in the wilderness.

Although Cheryl comes across a host of figures on her hike, from the compelling to the quirky, each contributing in some way to her journey, it is nevertheless her character and the performance by Reese Witherspoon which carries the film. Although on the surface the story provides ample grounds for melodrama, Witherspoon's performance never exaggerates or cheapens, but rather remains grounded and understated, softly drawing in rather than demanding empathy. The result is a brave and understanding character study of Cheryl, and an exploration into the complexity of human life and its flaws.

The film has drawn a lot of comparison with the 2007 film Into the Wild, with some negatively labelling it the “female version”, and claiming it doesn't live up to the “original”. Not only is this type of criticism shallow and stupid (why are so many female-centric films defined against male-led films only to somehow prove they are of poorer quality? Do we really see narratives and themes that simply?) but frankly entirely misses the point of both films. Maybe it's because I really didn't enjoy Into the Wild, but for me, Wild has all of the understanding, patience and celebration of life which Into the Wild, with all its pretension and thoughtlessness, ultimately lacked. Despite its difficult and at times tragic subject matter, Wild remains optimistic, focusing on rediscovering the beauty amidst the ugliness. As Cheryl Strayed's mother lovingly tells her daughter in one scene: “you can put yourself in the way of beauty”. Wild does just that. Through the astonishing character of Cheryl, the stunning cinematography capturing the American wilderness, and a hauntingly atmospheric soundtrack featuring Simon and Garfunkel and First Aid Kit (one of my most favourite bands), Wild puts itself, and the audience, in the way of the beauty of life.

"To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. My life, like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable, and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be."

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