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So I heard about this book before I went travelling, and thought it would be one of the best on-the-road stories to read. However, I never got around to reading it while on my journey, mainly because I couldn't afford to buy brand new books so I was left with the exchange shelf in hostels. I thought it sounded like a memoir that had a lot more substance than Eat, Pray, Love.
A couple of years later I finally got around to reading the book - and watching the movie - and I can confirm I was right. The real life story of Cheryl Strayed is powerful, fascinating and inspiring. How any woman can hike a thousand miles all alone in the vast wilderness of the Pacific Coast Trail is beyond me - it is such an impressive feat. But when you find out the reasons which pushed her to make the journey, and the psychological breakdown which followed, it becomes clear that this life defining trek is about so much more than the pain, the loneliness and the despair of the physical hike (although this is described so well in the book and portrayed so believably in the film that you really do feel those blisters).
The one thing that strikes me about the journey is that everyone Cheryl meets is so shocked and surprised that she's a young woman who has decided to set out on this journey alone. Hearing the same old "What's a young girl like you doing out here all alone?" gets a bit tiring, especially from stereotypically predatory male characters. However, you have to remember that Cheryl's trek took place 20 years ago in 1995, so it was more unusual to see lone female travellers at the time. People express concern but then like me, they are impressed and in awe of how Cheryl conquers the PCT.
So let's get down to comparing the book and the film. After reading the book, I couldn't figure out how they could make the film as exciting and moving. After all, for 90% of the story Cheryl is hiking, alone, in the deserts and mountains of the USA. That doesn't really make for great viewing. Obviously in her memoir Cheryl can describe the monotonous actions of the trek, her longing for real food and a shower and explain what was running through her mind at each stage. I knew for the film that would be hard to convey without corny voiceovers, but director Jean-Marc Vallee hit the nail on the head.
Far from boring, the film adaptation is fascinating and kept me engaged all the way through. The scenic shots were amazing too, which added beauty to Cheryl's descriptions of the ground she was covering. One of the reasons why it works so well is down to Reese Witherspoon, who not only starred as Cheryl - she bought the rights to the memoir before it was even published and produced the movie too.
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Reese brings a sense of realness to the character, which is difficult with a story which is as far from being cinematic as possible. This may be down to the fact that the director banned her from wearing make-up and made sure the backpack she was carrying was just as heavy as it was for Cheryl when she was hiking. It's been called the performance of her career, and Witherspoon has said herself it was definitely her hardest role yet.
Whichever format you want to consume Wild, whether it's through Cheryl's words or Vallee's screenplay, you'll be with her each step of the way. You'll feel her anger at the world when she starts her epic journey, and believe her transformation as she takes her last steps over the Bridge of the Gods. But I think, for the first time ever, I might have to say the film takes the crown on this one. We'll put it down to the fact that it's an adventurous memoir, so the stunning visual shots really do add to the inspiring story of self-discovery.
Has anybody read the book and seen the film? What do you think about it? Let me know if you agree! J x