Based on the 2012 book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) heads out on a gruelling 1,100-mile hike from the border of Mexico right up to the Canadian border to get to grips with life-altering incidents such as her divorce and the tragic loss of her mother (Dern). With each determined step, Cheryl inches closer towards self-realization.
Wild benefits from a simple, strong and straight-ahead storyline; its multi-linear narrative offers us various perspectives, such as glimpses into various stages of Cheryl's life prior to the present day, via flashbacks. These windows into her past about what could have and what should have been, still torment her. The memories are amplified due to her solitude, even as she staggers and slogs along the harsh, sun-baked, rocky road of reality.
Even her impossibly bulky, bulging backpack, under whose weight she frequently buckles and stumbles, is a metaphor for the cross she willingly bears. Not surprisingly, and perhaps mercifully, her load gets lightened along the way, up to a point where, after facing the truth rather than running away from it, her conscience transcends guilt, fear and regrets of the past.
The opening scene shows her taking a breather on a craggy hilltop. Her feet are lacerated and swollen and her face, a picture of exhaustion-bordering-on-despair. But the flame of determination still burns bright with the will to soldier on. Cheryl's ex-husband (Sadoski), whom she's still friends with, encourages her along the way with thoughtfully-written letters and care packages sent to rest-stops in advance. Along the way, Cheryl meets various people ranging from helpful, like the farmer family who notice that she's starving and give her a hot spare ribs and mashed potato dinner, to creepy (two horny, drunken hunters) to amiable (fellow hikers to share laughs and swap stories with).
While the ending seems a bit hurried and underwhelming, it is Witherspoon who shines throughout. She is extremely convincing in this stripped-down role, whose character she appears to have completely and convincingly absorbed.