Year 9, Day 87 - 3/28/17 - Movie #2,581
BEFORE: This is another film that was lingering down with the other films that are very hard to link to, for quite a while. There's an obvious link to tomorrow's film, and I sort of paired it with that film mentally, but until recently I had no place to go on the other side. For a while it was on the watchlist next to "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", because it shares at least two actors with that film, but then I used that sci-fi film to link to "X-Men: Apocalypse", and that then cut this film adrift - which seemed sort of appropriate. My recent re-organization of the watch list identified a new link, and I was able to move this back onto the real schedule, not the "someday" schedule. So now Michiel Huisman carries over from "The Age of Adaline".
THE PLOT: A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.
AFTER: I did (sort of) connect with this film, but I don't think it was in the way that was intended. I never read the book it's based on, but that shouldn't matter - nearly everyone has had a personal tragedy, gone through a divorce or lost a loved one, so even if you're not a hiker, you can probably find something here that you can relate to. For me, it reminded me of one hiking experience and two camping trips I took with my first wife, all of which ended in disaster. I did try to compress our last couple of years together into a screenplay, and I tried to put at least some of the blame for the break-up on those camping nightmares. For you see, we were two very different people when it came to diet and exercise, and if only one person in a relationship is athletic and vegetarian, then the chances of getting along are lessened. (Her coming out of the closet finally became too much of a strain, but perhaps the damage was already done.).
I remember the horrible camping food, and when you're with a bunch of crunchy-type people who won't even pack marshmallows because of their artificial nature, you're not likely to have a good time. I remember a leaky tent that forced us to abandon the camping concept when it started to rain, and instead I had to sleep curled up inside a too small (for me, anyway) car. And I remember I was also camping on the weekend that Jerry Garcia died (August 9, 1995) and the whole campground turned into a horrible sing-along of Grateful Dead songs - they're an OK band, I'm not a big fan. I'll try and revisit their music when my cassette-replacement project hits the letter "G", and I'm on "F" right now. This film also features hikers singing Dead songs, and it's an odd coincidence. (Yep, IMDB confirms that this scene was set in August, 1995.)
So my experiences, like that of the main character here, Cheryl Strayed, were downright monstrous - whatever the opposite of "glamping" is, that's what I went through. To paraphrase Fr. Mulcahy from the final episode of "M*A*S*H", when we die, and the Lord says we have to spend time in purgatory, I can say, "No thanks, I've done my time - I went camping." But one of my friends from those camping trips later made a film about people who hike the Appalachian Trail, called "2000 Miles to Maine", so I do understand a bit about the concept here. People who just want to get out and hike a very long distance, by themself or with others, and even if they have to leave the trail and go back to their life for a while, they make note of where they left off, so they can return to that spot.
And in a way, it's a metaphor for life's road, I get that. You're going to meet a lot of people along the way, some good, some not-so-good, some who will help you out and some who might take advantage of you. And you're going to learn something from all of them, if you're paying attention. And you can walk along with someone, or you can walk the road by yourself, if you need some time to just be in your own head. But how much time spent alone is too much? I ask myself that from time to time, even though I'm more comfortable being by myself than I used to be, if I spend too much time alone, I get a little crazy and talk to myself, or maybe the cat.
But what makes a person a "good" person? Because the film here presents us with a character who has done bad things, in addition to going through tough times. It's an important question for our times, when so many of our idols have been shown to have feet of clay, whether it's the sports star who's up on weapons charges, or the beloved sitcom star who allegedly drugged women to have sex with him. Or any famous person who dares to have a social life that is in contrast to our own personal moral beliefs, or tells a story about a robbery in a foreign country that never even happened. Can a person be "good" in some aspect of their life to counter some other sin or indulgence?
This leads me back to the people who have this high moral attitude that's related to their diet or exercise, as if being "healthy" in body is somehow related to morality, or being "healthy" in spirit. Come on, you probably know someone who's all uppity when it comes to being gluten-free, or about how many times this week they've been to the gym, or how long they ran on that treadmill. It's all a bunch of B.S., because none of that makes them a "good" person in spirit, they can still be assholes. In fact it often seems more likely - and I'd rather hang out with the eaters and drinkers who at least know how to have a good time, even if it's a shorter one.
But maybe I needed to hear this "don't quit" message that this film espouses - because my career path is kind of like this long hike, in its own way. I've got more than enough reasons to pack it in and seek a job where in addition to a paycheck, I can also get a little bit of respect and appreciation. But every time I think "Should I quit now?" I look back on how far I've come, and like Cheryl Strayed here, I then focus on the obstacle ahead, whatever it is, and say, "Fuck it!". And so far it's not "Fuck it, I quit", but more like "Fuck it, I've come this far, what's another year?" I admit it's not the best attitude, but it does get me through the day.
But let's start with the NITPICK POINTS. First off, the film is way too flashback-y. I understand the need to reveal the WHY of her journey slowly, over time, I just don't know if excessive flashbackery was the best way to do it. The first few are even silent memories, because God forbid we learn too much about why she's hiking over 1,000 miles too soon in the film. Plus, what's the point of numbering the days on the hike, if you're then going to jump around in time excessively, so we don't even know when we are?
The first few flashbacks are also very confusing - it looked like Cheryl's mother was attending high school classes with her, and I don't see how that made any sense. Then I thought maybe her mother was a teacher at her high school, but that didn't make sense either. Was the mother trying to get her own diploma later in life, after her own divorce? This was never really explained.
Directly related to this is the casting of Laura Dern as Cheryl's mother - but Dern's only 9 years older in real life than Reese Witherspoon is. So they really had to try and make Reese look younger and Laura look older, but there's only so much you can do in that regard. (Weird tie-in with "The Age of Adaline", where Adaline and her daughter looked like sisters - but this was due to the quirk of Adaline not aging...).
Another NITPICK POINT, it seemed like there was a shot where Cheryl read her own name, Strayed, as a word in the dictionary. I get that she "strayed" from her husband and "strayed" off on her hike, so the name has a meaning that ties in with the plot, but there just wouldn't be a dictionary entry for this word, because it's just the past tense of "stray", so a tense would only appear as a small part of the main definition for that root word. The symbolism doesn't work if you phony up a dictionary entry.
Anyway, my takeaway from the film is that the old saying "The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step" is also a bunch of bull. I think it should be more like "The journey of 1,000 miles SHOULD begin with like, a month of prep-work, if you're smart." Or perhaps you should be figuring out a better way to travel, because we have planes and trains now - why is hiking still a thing?
Also starring Reese Witherspoon (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Laura Dern (last seen in "Dr. T & The Women"), Thomas Sadoski (last seen in "John Wick"), Keene McRae (last seen as Sting (!) in "CBGB"), W. Earl Brown (last seen in "Vampire in Brooklyn"), Gaby Hoffman (last seen in "Everyone Says I Love You"), Kevin Rankin (last seen in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), Brian Van Holt (last seen in "A Very Brady Sequel"), Cliff De Young (last seen in "The Craft"), Mo McRae (last seen in "The Butler"), Jan Hoag, Charles Baker, J.D. Evermore, Ray Buckley, Cathryn de Prume, with cameos from Art Alexakis (from the band "Everclear") and the real Cheryl Strayed.
RATING: 4 out of 10 protein bars