Wild has been praised by critics and audiences alike mainly because people love seeing people make tons of mistakes and survive the journey. We love growth through hardship, even if (or maybe especially when) the protagonist is stepping on her own feet. It just makes for all the necessary pain and relief we need to have hope for our own basically definite future mistakes and hopeful survival- we very much hope to thrive amidst our baffling decisions and natural disasters, alike. My interest in the story is that it seems to be about the opposition of personal freedom and market freedom: society and the wild world. Watching it makes one consider how connecting with one’s basic instincts and pushing on through all levels of discomfort, thoroughly damning all hope of convenience in the near future, can lead to us rewiring our want/need understanding back to the setting of personal freedom rather than market -want/have/must buy/”need”- freedom.
Reese Witherspoon plays a woman suffering severe grief after the sudden death of her mother. Falling into a tailspin of addiction, she decides to walk her way back to being the person she was by hiking the Pacific Coastal Trail. She does it without adequate training. It’s important to keep in mind that this would not be a story if she had studied survival skills first, that her impulsive goodness is as shaky as her impulsive badness: they stem from the same source. Still, it was hard to watch her go on and on, uninformed to survive, mostly because it didn’t look like she was using very different decision-making methods from the life she left behind. The wilderness forced her to be smarter and more in-tune than society, with its false embrace of soft bed, warm TV, dry floor, cellphone, would ever have inspired. In fact, it stifled this renewal. This woman breaks down that embrace with mantras like “I do not miss tacos” and “I am not hungry”.
It occurs to even the most cynical, critical viewer that the trail she’s on isn’t about walking with knowledge. Surviving in the wild is a journey of being with yourself.
Stupid or brave? Both. Listening to your heart is brave. Leaving your life behind to return to your nature is extremely brave. Learning some survival techniques before heading out into the wilderness is probably a good idea. Not doing that is kind of stupid, but watching the film, it puts in perspective how survival in society stunts our sense of personal freedom and power and how thrusting ourselves into the wild -with or without knowledge- puts us back in touch with our own wild inside. Dying from mistakes in society is often viewed as failure. Dying in the wild of nature would simply happen sooner or later. Living the difference makes for a stronger being walking back into society.