“Wild”: The David Denby Review (The New Yorker, Dec. 8, 2014)

Aha! A fairly recent issue of The New Yorker — Hallelujah!

In this issue, David Denby reviews “Wild,” the film adaptation of the Cheryl Strayed memoir.

Self saw the movie several weeks ago, after which she posted a few remarks on

Facebook, which led to an unexpected debate about whether the focus of the book (and movie) was hooking up. Strayed brings at least 20 condoms with her on the hike, and when she goes to bed with an attractive stranger — the guy’s handing out flyers for some cause, and the minute Strayed lays eyes on him, sparks fly (Oregon, as depicted in this movie, feels very laid back in a “Woodstock,” sort of “hippie” way) — she’s wearing matching black lace bra and panties. Self doesn’t know why this detail bothered her so much. Were those Victoria Secret lacy things in her backpack this whole time? This felt so at odds with the avowed purpose of the journey, which self thought were about coping with the challenges of actually hiking (Perhaps self will undertake to read the book so that she can understand better–?)

Another thing self noticed during that hook-up scene (and self knows she is so focused on minutiae, but she can’t help it) was that the sections on Reese’s back that were rubbed raw by her humongous knapsack still looked, near the close of the journey,  exactly like the red spots she developed on the first week.  In other words, after months and months of hiking, the red spots never chafed or evolved to full-on bruising? They’re more like back hickeys. (But if a knapsack that heavy were pressing on your back for months and months — wouldn’t the injuries have been aggravated, wouldn’t they look less contained?) But this is a movie. And not just any movie — a movie of self-fulfillment. The bruises arouse the male lover’s interest and eventually, his awe — At least, self thinks it was awe. (Person: have you never seen a woman with bruises — not out-and-out black-and-blue but faintly red bruises — on a woman’s body before? Or perhaps you are simply inexperienced?)

One person on Facebook said this was why she loathed the book. Then someone else said that she’d hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the memoir was completely accurate in its depiction of hook-ups along the trail (sweat, toned bodies, serendipity etc factor in). Then someone else said she loved the book, and it was NOT about hook-ups.

So let’s hear what New Yorker movie critic David Denby has to say!

First of all, he thinks that it is a good movie.

He begins his review where the movie itself begins: the panting scene.

Yes indeed, even before we get any clue as to Reese’s character, the sound is all we can focus on, because it sounds so much like making-love sounds.

Camera pans out, we see Reese on top of a sheer cliff, pulling off her boots, displaying her blackened toe nails, etc.

At which point — well, yes, self does get it — hiking the Pacific Trail is going to have plenty, plenty of sensuality. Whether it’s Reese moaning over her blackened toe-nails, or actual sex, or threatened sex, or flashback sex, this movie will have Reese Witherspoon showing off the sexy (And the fact that the actress is herself very alluring doesn’t make this too much of a stretch)

On second thought, let’s not quote the rest of the David Denby review. Let’s just do a couple of sentences:  “The suggestion of sex at the start is part of the movie’s candid tone” and “she experiences every encounter with men as fraught with erotic possibility — or trepidation.”

SPOILERS  SPOILERS  SPOILERS

Well, yes. The dialogue is so suggestive. When Reese gets a truck to stop, the driver seems very smarmy — until he takes Reese to his home and she meets his wife. At the truck driver’s home, Reese does take a very extended shower, and self, having listened to all the previous dialogue, fully expected the man to come barging into the bathroom and assaulting Reese. Ha, ha, thankfully this does not happen. But it’s still a disconcerting possibility.  A possibility which keeps recurring, over and over and over and over and over and over again ad infinitum.

At one point, Strayed really does seem to be in danger when she meets up with two coarse backwoods types (Self isn’t sure whether or not “backwoods type” is an accurate description, but anyhoo). But again, the scene is truncated. Because — in spite of all that menace, nothing happens! The point, therefore, must just have been to highlight Strayed’s extreme vulnerability.

What self really liked about the movie was the performance of Laura Dern. The woman is powerful. Her vulnerability, her essence, her courage — Dern projects all of these, in spades. It’s her performance that leads self to believe there really was a gaping black hole left in Cheryl Strayed’s life after her mother’s death, a hole that could only be filled by, in no particular order: a) indiscriminate sex; b) heroin; c) infidelity and d) hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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