Wild: Book vs. Film
Nina Kenwood and Bronte Coates talk about Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, and how the recent film adaptation compares to the book.
Bronte: I read Wild based on your recommendation but otherwise I never would’ve picked it up as it didn’t sound like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. I absolutely loved it (of course). Why did you pick it up in the first place?
Nina: I think I read something about it online, and I’d just gotten into hiking myself. I fell in love with the book very quickly – I remember laughing and crying within the first few chapters.
Bronte: Me too. I had such an instantaneous response to Strayed’s voice and story in the book. But I didn’t have this with the film.
Nina: I liked the film, but found it too flat, too slight, and too forgettable in comparison to the book. It didn’t capture the essence of Cheryl Strayed’s journey. The book meant so much to me (I think I’ve recommended it to at least 10 people), but the movie was two hours of enjoyable entertainment that I haven’t thought much about since.
Bronte: I absolutely agree that the essence of the book was missed. Before seeing the film I’d read a short article by Melbourne write Ellena Savage where she talked about the film. It’s a great read (find it here) about what it means to be ‘alone’ if you’re a girl but at one point she commented: ‘Why does the girl in Wild have to walk a thousand miles as penance for being a promiscuous heroin user, so that she can eventually marry a nice guy? Why is her aloneness a journey of fixing her impurity, and not enunciating her subject?’ I’d thought to myself – but that’s not what this memoir is about at all! It’s about grief and identity, about challenging yourself. Then, after seeing the film I understood why she’d left with that particular impression. I felt they overdid all the sexual flashbacks to make them more dramatic.
Nina: Yes, if you’ve read the book it’s difficult to relate to that criticism (also, as lover of hiking: hiking is not penance! It’s a reward!). I think the film did a great job of highlighting the challenging parts of hiking, but maybe not such a good job showing the rewards the journey gave Strayed, or showing why she did the walk in the first place. Also, while I think the flashbacks worked stylistically in the film, they didn’t work for me quite as well on an emotional level.
Bronte: Late last year I read a couple of terrific books about women who turn to the ‘wilderness’ as a response to grief, notably H is for Hawk which I wrote a little bit about here. In this memoir, Helen MacDonald reflects on the difference between stories about men compared to women in the wilderness. One aspect of the film that I thought was excellent was the way Strayed gets treated as a ‘girl’ walking the trail. There’s a genuine sense of menace, which sits uncomfortably beside the privileges she also finds herself privy to.
Nina: Yes, I think the film captured the loneliness of the trail really well, and also the fear Strayed felt at times – I loved the scene of her in the car, getting a lift into town from a man that she doesn’t quite trust. The film did a good job of re-creating particular moments from the book, it just fell short of truly portraying the wonderful, deeply personal depths of Strayed’s story. However, I thought Reese was excellent and quite deserving of her Oscar nomination.
Bronte: Yes, her performance was one of my highlights of the film. What did you think of the other performances?
Nina: I wasn’t sold on Laura Dern’s performance as much (even though I love Laura Dern). It felt a bit too one-note, so I was surprised she received an Oscar nomination for her role. I actually think she gave a stronger performance (in a similar role) in The Fault In Our Stars.
Bronte: Every single scene in TFIOS featuring Dern was a tear-jerker. I thought she was pretty great in the film but that her relationship with Strayed was undeveloped. After I saw it I remembered this great moment in the book where Strayed says that her mother’s death has: ‘cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off’. Those kind of quiet reflections were what made the book so much more real to me.
Nina: Thinking about Wild has inspired me to read more books about wilderness, hiking and walking this year. My shortlist currently includes Wanderlust: A History of Walking, H is for Hawk, A Walk in the Woods and Tracks. Can you recommend any others?
Bronte: I loved A Walk in the Woods and have Wanderlust on my reading pile. There was also that beautiful-looking book, Seven Walks: Cape Leeuwin To Bundeena, last year. And Melbourne-based author Nic Low (whose debut short-story collection came out last year) is working on what’s been described as ‘a literary walking expedition through New Zealand’s Southern Alps’ to come out in 2016 and sounds fantastic.
Nina: Oh yes, Seven Walks was a stunning book that I almost bought as a Christmas present to myself. Nic Low’s book sounds right up my alley – I can’t wait!