This weekend, I was lucky enough to see Wild the Movie with three other thru-hikers, Pi (who I met on the PCT), Twinkle (who I met this year on the PCT), and Mr. Gorbachev (who has section-hiked Washington PCT). Here in Denver, Wild is only showing on one screen at a one arthouse theater, making us luck to score tickets, but the movie should be out in mainstream theaters soon. (Had we not been able to finagle tickets, our plan was to claim that as Real PCT Hikers, FoxSearchLight had commissioned us to be pre-show entertainment for opening weekend).
I liked Wild the Book, although my one complaint was that as a hiker, I wasn’t feeling the anxiety and suspense that most readers must have experienced. For the normal Oprah book club reader, there must be thrill in reading about crossing snowfields or climbing over boulders. As a hiker, my reaction while reading the book was “well, I know what she has to do to get out of this situation,” and “Yeah, that happens.”
However, in movie form, Cheryl’s outdoor troubles were pretty fun to watch. The other theater-goers must have found us hikers twisted when we laughed at some of her most harrowing hiking moments (note that we showed appropriate emotion towards her non-hiking troubles). One example of a time when we got some looks from the audience was when we chuckled at Cheryl’s pack bruises and scars on her shoulders and waist. What the others moviegoers could not have guessed was that we weren’t laughing at Cheryl, but we were laughing with her.
As hikers, our joy in Wild came as laughs of triumph. In watching Cheryl, we knew that we too had been in that position. We, too, had once been that scared and frustrated. What made Wild a joy to watch was that we now know exactly how to get out of that situation (and in fact, now that situation isn’t a big deal anymore).
Before I saw Wild, I had been warned by Barney “Scout” Mann, who saw a pre-screening at the Telluride Film Festival, that PCT hikers may find the inaccuracies of the landscapes in the film distracting. Specifically, the movie was shot on private land in Oregon and there were questions about whether the director could have done a better job making Ashland look like Southern California. After seeing the film, to the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the landscapes were more-or-less accurate to the trail (with the exception of Northern California—which, really, if they filmed in Ashland, they could have done a better job making it look like 11 miles south of where they filmed). I was specifically pleased to see how much the stretch from Highway 58 to Kennedy Meadows looked exactly like the trail—in fact, after watching the credits, I suspect they may have been able to film on the PCT or pretty close.
I was also satisfied by how accurately Wild portrayed hikertrash life. In a scene where Cheryl camps with other hikers, I was so impressed with the actors playing thru-hikers that I wondered if the casting agent just decided to find real thru-hikers instead of SAG cardholders. Furthermore, early viewers of the film had cautioned me that Cliff De Young doesn’t quite look like Meadow Ed, but I thought Hollywood did a great job of finding a guy who is pretty close, and making him look as he may have in the 1990s. Indeed, the casting on this film in general was phenomenal with even bit parts stealing the show.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I was shocked by how Wild evoked my memories and emotions related to the PCT. As always, whenever I see a photo or video of the PCT, I’m always surprised by how well I can identify where it was filmed. Even though we as thru-hikers cover thousands of miles, somehow landscapes stick in our minds and bring out memories and emotions in a way contrary to how the brain normally stores information. What alarmed me though, was at the end of the film, Cheryl makes it to Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River. For a thru-hiker, BOG is a beautiful site—the end of a state, the lowest point on the trail, a place where food can be purchased at Cascade Locks. Yet, when I watched the movie, that landscape lost its beauty when separated from my own emotions (including hunger). Instead, BOG was a sad spot along the trail, because it meant the movie was going to end.
Every hiker has started a long trail with a story similar to Cheryl’s, or knows someone like her. While I enjoyed Wild the Book for Cheryl’s writing style and the parts not about hiking, I enjoyed Wild the Movie for the parts about hiking.