I saw the film “Wild” last weekend with the same annoyance I had in reading the wildly popular book by that title almost two and a half years ago. The condoms.
Here was the author, Cheryl Strayed, setting out on an arduous trek to purify her soul by hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Oregon. Her life up to the point of departure along Highway 58 near Tehachapi Pass was a disaster. She was, if we are to believe her, a heavy drug abuser with a major in heroin and a propensity for unprotected sex with numerous male partners. As portrayed, this was a woman who clearly hated herself, although she blames it all on grief. Her “beloved” mother died of cancer not long before.
Strayed’s idea, it seems to me, should have been to make this spiritual voyage, at least at the start, drug and sex free.
But, no. As she put together that giant backpack, dubbed Monster, she slipped in some condoms. Why would she do that? To start out so half-hearted on such an important venture to cleanse herself? Or, as she said, to become the perfect person she once was, “strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.” Right there, it sounds like someone with an idealized and unrealistic view of self.
It was at that point early on, with the condoms, that I began to lose faith in the author and the honesty of the book. And for that matter, the film too, since she wrote the screenplay. The film, by the way, larded on Strayed’s grief from the death of her mother to the point you could slit it with a dull knife. Flashback, flashback, flashback, to good times with mom, times that did not seem good to me.
Why did she change her married name to the affected “Strayed?” She did that soon after the divorce from a husband who of course worshipped her and always saw the good Cheryl. She seems to glorify her life as a bad girl, straying from the straight and narrow. And if she so loved her mother, why not keep the original surname to honor her? But again, no. I suspect the change was made because she planned to write a book all along and thought it would enhance sales.
Why not start with the PCT at its beginning point at the Mexican border? And after starting, why skip the most dangerous 450 miles, from Lone Pine, near snowbound Mount Whitney, to Sierra City?
At one point, in self-pity, Strayed describes herself as “the woman with a hole in her heart.” In checking my reading notes, I wrote she had a “callous” for a heart. Take her pregnancy.
Strayed was not sure who the potential father was and suddenly followed up with this: “I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky and took a refresher course on basic first aid and practiced using my water purifier in my kitchen sink.”
While abortion is more a health issue to me than a moral one, my god, shouldn’t you give a little more time and consideration to it than “tuna flakes?”
In the end I did not like Strayed or her book. She waited almost 17 years to write it after ending her journey at the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border, a long way from the trail’s end in Canada. So I believe a lot of what she wrote, because of the way she wrote it, was fiction.
I will give Strayed this. She made a pile of money from book sales and whatever film deal she made.
The one good thing I see is that “Wild” will encourage a lot of women to set out on spiritual treks alone and find the hikes rewarding — only doing them right. Though Strayed no doubt suffered physically during her journey, I as a longtime hiker myself, think too often she took the easy way out.