I went to see a movie at a theater for the first time in about a year over the holidays. Wild is based on a book by Cheryl Strayed that was launched to fame by attention from Oprah Winfrey. The movie, pretty faithful to the book, starred Reese Witherspoon as Strayed, a woman walking the Pacific Crest Trail for three months as a road to redemption from some hard living following the death of her mother.
I liked the movie well enough; it was just ok—the same way I felt about the book. I have to give Strayed credit for her unflinching exposure of some very bad behavior that among other things led to the dissolution of her marriage. But, well, I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about with the book’s and now the movie’s popularity.
Until, that is, the middle of the night as I tossed and turned myself to sleep, which is when I do some of my best thinking. The reason Wild resonates with women is that it’s the classic hero’s journey à la Joseph Campbell. Though books and tales with men at the center are many, there are really not all that many books about women’s adventuring in the wild or unknown, facing down various foes and adversity, contemplating their lives, and returning home better for the journey. This is why Eat, Pray, Love was such a hit, again an Oprah phenom. Now I get it, and can appreciate both books more on that level. (Thanks, Oprah, for keeping an eye out for women’s heroic outward and inward journeys for us.)