Book v Film: Wild

“What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here?”

Published in 2012, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is an American New York Times Best Seller biographical memoir written by Cheryl Strayed. Adapted in 2014 by director Jean-Marc Vallée and writer Nick Hornby, the story chronicles one woman’s 1100-mile solo hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. With the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother (Laura Dern), which led to years of reckless, destructive behaviour, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) makes the rash decision after losing all hope. With absolutely no experience, and driven only by sheer determination, Cheryl sets off on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her.


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

Reading Wild before the film adaptation was released, I wanted to pack my bags up and go for a long walk to somewhere unknown, too. I’d been travelling myself the year before picking up this book, so I knew what it felt like to trek around unfamiliar places with no responsibilities to worry about or people to put you down, without plans and an infinite amount of time ahead of you to do whatever you felt right. But I wasn’t particularly inspired by the story at the time of reading or watching it because it isn’t the motivational journey as promised.

Sure, Wild gave me that wanderlust feeling. But any book about travelling will do that. Cheryl’s details of the trial itself are excellently documented and as an advertisement to the Pacific Crest Trail, I’m sure thousands of people will be partaking in it after reading or watching Cheryl’s story.

But Wild is supposed to be about a woman finding herself after losing her way after the death of her mother. Even the thought of that sends a ping of pain to your heart, but in both the book and the film, I didn’t feel that there was enough reflection on her own character to give a big enough impact on the audience. Cheryl wasn’t a changed woman when she finished the trial; instead, she was just given some spare time to get her head around her situation a little better. Which is fair enough. But I wanted to feel empowered and inspired and that’s just not what this book did, as much as Reese Witherspoon will preach otherwise.

I do love Witherspoon in this, however, and her performance deserves all of the praise it received. The film itself is a great adaptation, as it should be with the excellent writer Nick Hornby behind it, and seeing the beautiful and colourful settings and locations of Cheryl’s journey brings some much-needed life to the story.

Differences From The Book:

Aside from a lot of condensing and re-ordering, there is very little changed from the book. Here are the main differences:

  • Cheryl had a sister called Karen. In the film, she only has a brother.
  • Cheryl also had a stepfather named Glenn (renamed Eddie in the book), but he isn’t mentioned in the film either.
  • Cheryl and her family spent some time growing up on a farm. This isn’t mentioned in the film.
  • Cheryl didn’t have sex with two men in an alleyway like she does in the film.
  • There are more stops and people who Cheryl encounters in the book.

Overall Verdict:

I didn’t find it powerfully moving or overly inspirational, but it is a very personal story that everybody will take something different from. Aside from my own lack of engagement, I did enjoy Cheryl’s story, but I didn’t find it as deep or as adventurous as I had hoped.

Wild is set to be released on DVD on 31st May.

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