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What the fuck have I done?

My life, like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable, sacred, so very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.
Cheryl Strayed
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Wild is a 2014 film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, with a screenplay written by Nick Hornby, and starring/produced by Reese Witherspoon. The film is based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her 1100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. The death of Strayed's mother Barbara (played by Laura Dern) sends Strayed into a life crisis that includes heroin abuse and random casual sex with any man who wants it.

After her self-destructive behavior wrecks her marriage, Strayed decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as a sort of purification ritual in which she hopes to become a better person. She starts in the Mojave Desert of California and hikes all the way to the Oregon-Washington border.

Essentially, the film is a female version of Into the Wild with the heroine going about her soul journey with a touch more intelligence and occasional help.

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Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Cheryl's stepfather. It isn't directly mentioned, but it's implied that his threat to turn the violence against Cheryl is what leads her mother to leave him.
  • Agony of the Feet: Cheryl wears boots that are too small for her, which gives her nasty blisters. The film begins with her having to peel off one of her toenails.
  • Amicable Exes: Cheryl and her ex-husband are trying their darndest to be this trope
  • Anachronic Order: Not only is a lot of the story told through flashbacks, but the flashbacks themselves are presented in anachronic order.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: In the first scene, Cheryl unleashes a ridiculously loud "FUCK YOU!" at her boots, which had been giving her horrible blisters due to being way too small for her feet, after hurling them off a mountain. When the story picks up it becomes apparent that she never bothered recovering them and continued on with her journey wearing sandals and bandages until REI sent her new boots.
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  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Played with. Cheryl accumulates cuts, bruises, and blisters over the course of her journey, but she still only delves into Unkempt Beauty at worst, even after roughing it out in the wilderness for weeks without showering. (She does stink to high heaven, as a stranger notes when Cheryl hikes into a town.)
  • Black Comedy: A lot of humor is had from the misfortunes that befall Cheryl, often as a result of having no idea what she's doing.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Deconstructed. Cheryl brings a whole load of things with her on her hike. Turns out most of them are completely useless and only weigh down her pack considerably. As such, an experienced hiker helps her go through her pack and minimize the loadnote .
  • Disappeared Dad: The film is a little vague, but the abusive man that hits Barbara in the face was her stepfather. No mention is made of her real father other than a comment by Strayed that she hasn't seen her father in years.
  • Double Standard: While being a woman makes Cheryl more vulnerable, as dramatically demonstrated in the scene where a creepy hunter seems about to rape her, it also has some upsides. When a park ranger who's taken a shine to Cheryl brings her coffee and a doughnut, the three male hikers sharing the campsite say that no one ever does favors for them.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Cheryl's heroin use is depicted as a low point in her life, but later she's not quite so sure, wondering if heroin taught her something. That part where a fellow junkie held a knife to her throat and robbed her was still pretty bad, though.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: When Cheryl loses her boots, she improves a pair out of sandals and duct tape.
  • Fan Disservice: Witherspoon does her first nude scenes since 1998's Twilight (no, not that one). But her sexual encounters, except for the one on the trail, are mostly depicted as degrading.
  • Flashback: Many, used to tell Cheryl's life story before the hike and explore her relationship with her mother Barbara.
  • Freakout: While sleeping in the wilderness one night, Cheryl wakes up feeling something crawling on her leg. She panics, leaps out of her sleeping bag, shakes it loose, and blows her safety whistle loudly at the trespasser. It was a harmless woolly bear caterpillar.
  • Hobos: Strayed runs into a reporter from the Hobo Times who assumes that she is a hobo and starts interviewing her. She insists that she isn't a hobo, but has to admit that she doesn't actually have a job or a place to live.
  • In Medias Res: The film kicks off with Strayed already on the hike, forced to rip out one of her toenails. Flashbacks interspersed throughout the movie tell her life story and how she came to hike the trail.
  • Journey to Find Oneself: Cheryl goes on her hike because she wants to be a better person, worthy of her mother's memory.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Given by a smart-ass snowboarder when Cheryl, who is struggling through the snow-covered Sierras, is trying to figure out if she is still on the Pacific Crest Trail.
    Cheryl: Where am I?
    Snowboarder: California.
    Justified, oddly, since she's more or less walking along the state border.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The fox.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The main character is a fairly ordinary person in many ways, doing something that many people have done before and since, but the cinematography, soundtrack, flashbacks and script bring it all to life as an epic journey.
  • One-Word Title
  • Photo Montage: Snapshots of the real Cheryl Strayed during her hike are shown with the closing credits.
  • Posthumous Character: Barbara, dead when the film begins, her death having been what sent Cheryl into her self-destructive spiral. Flashbacks are used to develop the relationship between Barbara and Cheryl.
  • The Pollyanna: Barbara. When Cheryl asks why Barbara is cheerful and singing all the time when they are poor and barely scraping by as waitresses, she says that she likes to put her "best self" forward. She also mentions that she has no regrets for the mistakes she's made because they brought her to where she is now, which is an attitude Cheryl herself takes towards the end of the film.
  • Precision F-Strike: "Day fucking 36."
  • Product Placement: A more perfect movie to sell REI hasn't yet been made.
  • Really Gets Around: Cheryl gets to a point where she will have sex with just about anyone. In one scene she serves two customers at the diner where she works, then goes to the alley behind the diner and has sex with both of them.
  • Real Person Cameo: Cheryl Strayed is the woman driving the truck who drops off Witherspoon at the start of the movie.
  • The Red Baron: Cheryl finds to her mildly annoyance that her presence on the trail has gotten around and she's gotten the nickname, "The Queen of the PCT."
  • Redemption Quest: Essentially the point of the movie, as the flashbacks show that teenage Cheryl is a rather wholesome bookworm type who went off the rails.
  • Road Trip Plot: On foot, as Strayed hikes the PCT, meeting people along the way and having life experiences.
  • Scenery Porn: There's the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert, the vistas of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Crater Lake, where Strayed makes camp.
  • Sex for Solace: Implied to be the primary reason Cheryl sleeps around after the death of her mother. She even flat-out says she's not happy unless she's sleeping with someone or doing drugs.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: to Into the Wild. Both films center around protagonists Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life through leaving their lives behind and going on ambitious hiking trips. The difference between Cheryl and Christopher/Alexander is that while the latter dies alone and woefully unprepared, Cheryl both Knows When to Fold 'Em and also knows to prepare for a journey even if comically inadequately.
  • Take It to the Bridge: Strayed ends her hike at the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River, symbolizing her leaving her past behind and starting a new life.
  • Toilet Humor: During a montage earlier in the film, she is badly covering her poop with rocks, which is exactly the opposite of what other hikers would do in this situation. Afterwards, she talks to herself on how she wishes for a toilet. A deleted scene shows an extension of this, with her going through a lot of hard work just to finally take a dump.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted; she sees one in a flashback. She ends up not being able to tolerate therapy, though.
  • Walking the Earth: Strayed sets out to do it for a while.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Voiceover during the last scene in which Cheryl tells the audience that she got married, had kids, and started a career as a writer.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Cheryl's serial infidelity during her first marriage leads to its dissolution. She actually mentions at the time that she prefers sleeping with strangers to sleeping with her husband.
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