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Wild: A Woman in Threes

wild

The true story chronicling Cheryl Strayed (Resse Witherspoon) and her 1,100 mile hike reminds me a lot of the Chris McCandless in the film Into the Wild. Of course there are many differences between the characters—but the nature of hiking in solitude because they both wanted to disappear from society is the same. Cheryl’s journey is beautiful and also ends beautifully, something that was unfortunately absent in Chris’s story.

Much of the reason why Cheryl’s hike and life ends up the way it does is because of her ambition and desire to get better and improve. Her voice-over throughout the film reveals the dark, depressing thoughts of a lonely woman, but underneath all those profanities and anger is someone who is basking in the struggle because she knows the outcome will be better than her life has been in the past few years. Throughout the hike we get to know Cheryl’s sarcastic and sometimes naïve side, but we also learn about all the women she once was. This is, in fact, one of the most important aspects of the film: a person is made up of different layers and Cheryl’s are revealed and change slowly.

We meet the most current Cheryl in the beginning of them film when she’s getting ready for her journey and have to wait for the story to unfold to know who she was before and why her relationships are in shambles. As we are taken back to her past, it’s hard to imagine that the woman hiking all these miles alone, fearing the men along the way that make her feel uncomfortable, is the same person in these flashbacks giving up her body to strangers, or leaving her husband and shooting up heroin with her new companion. And once we get to know the self-destructive Cheryl, it is hard accepting it’s the same woman in other flashbacks who stays up late studying, writing papers, reading Flannery O’Connor, and hanging out with her mother. The same woman who was addicted to drugs, refused therapy or help in anyway, left her family and friends to find herself, is the same mousey haired, innocent woman who had perceptive dreams that no one was going to stand in the way of.

The flashbacks of Cheryl are not featured in order and it’s up to us to place these moments on a timeline, but part of me thinks it doesn’t really matter. Certain people, places, but most events are what makes Cheryl want to leave and change. The time they happened is irrelevant—the importance lies within the three different parts of this woman—and whether or not she will choose one to be again or someone else entirely. Some reviews about Wild complain about the ongoing flashbacks, but to me they are needed to show us just how human Cheryl Strayed is. Like all of us, she is complicated and is affected by her past and worries about her future. She also hikes 1,100 miles mostly alone—so who wouldn’t take that time to reflect? These reflections/flashbacks is also what brings Cheryl to her truest moments. There are only a few times when Cheryl lets her guard down completely and sobs for help—but the vulnerability is important because it allows her to realize her own weaknesses.

The plethora of flashbacks is necessary, but more with her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) could be included. The moments with Paul are out of order, but that’s not why I feel a disconnect between the couple. I want to know when they first fell in love and see that relationship play out a bit on screen and then watch it fall apart. What’s most interesting about the relationship, though, is Cheryl is the one who faults Paul. She whole-heartedly admits her infidelities and mistakes, when typically in films we see these situations reversed: the woman is usually the one left behind. Cheryl’s still left behind and taken over by her own grief, but chooses to find a life again. Except it’s without Paul.

There are other aspects of the film that also could have been sketched clearer, like Cheryl’s heroin addiction, if she’s sober, or when she last used. However, perhaps focusing on Cheryl’s relationship with Paul or heroine would take away from the most essential one in the film: the bond between Cheryl and her mother. Yet, for Cheryl the loss of her mother doesn’t mean dwelling on how much she misses her. Loss turns into the desire to know oneself and fleshing out all those others that live within us that either need to disappear or shine through again.

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Gone Girl: Complexity Cut in Half

gone girl

One of the downfalls about seeing a highly anticipated film is the expectations that sometimes end up falling short. The anticipation and hype wasn’t the only reason Gone Girl didn’t reach the mark it seemed to promise, but perhaps because I finished Gilliam Flyn’s novel the day before.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the film. It’s entertaining, but after I left the theater, I tried remembering some of the shots that stood out. The risky, uncomfortable camera angles that often stay with viewers after a movie ends. As for cinematography, there weren’t any I could point out automatically. There were, however, some well choreographed scenes worth remembering. Like when Amy (Rosamund Pike) stages a desperate, bloody breakdown. Besides Pike’s key performance, the high camera angle and use of color is what brings this specific picture together. Here, Amy wears a cream colored silk nightgown and when the blood from her wounds seeps through the silk, the contrasted dark red against the white makes a haunting image. One that made me wince, turn away, but more importantly made me remember the sequence afterwards and wonder why it worked so well.

Another scene like this is when Amy constructs her master plan to escape her ex-boyfriend’s house. The precision in the shot sequence is the slow way it moves at first. The music is low and Amy moves with Desi ( Neil Patrick Harris) in a sly and graceful way, but then things are kicked up ten notches as the music turns louder and demanding, as does Amy when blood is spilled all over her pale body once again. The image is captivating—the crimson color splashed across a beautiful woman—and one that again made me turn away, but circle back to when the film was over.

For those who haven’t read Flynn’s Gone Girl, I’m sure they are very surprised once we learn more about Amy and the plot shift she creates. I even heard a few gasps from the audience as Amy’s voice-over starts the story from the beginning. The real story.  For me, I wanted to see a drastic change in style; however, I did enjoy Amy’s car rides and deserted hide away scenes compared to the previous of husband Nick ( Ben Afflack) who sulks around his house acting strange. In relation to the novel, David Fincher does a very nice job of keeping viewers on the outside and revealing the truth in a sudden, yet strong way. The other issue I saw was the lack of Amy’s rounded character that was present in the novel. Flynn even wrote the screenplay and I’m sure it’s hard to create a complex charter in half the words, half the time. But still, there are some medium-sized holes that need filling. I don’t think we are supposed to pity Amy but I do think the novel makes a point to show with a very extreme example, what happens when humans, especially woman, try to be a certain way to please men. Amy’s situation or the aftermath of it seems like one big, smart hyperbole. She takes a sucky situation a lot of women face and goes to extremes by punishing the one person who fooled her into becoming someone she wasn’t. We hear it in the movie a few times, the reference to ” cool girl”, except I think we need to hear it much more. It’s endless in the second half of the novel, the way Amy admits she tried to be that girl that is completely fictional and whether or not Flynn meant for it to be a solid message about forcing change, I feel the film could have made it more of a reoccurring issue. Instead, we tend to only see Amy as a psychotic bitch that brings on the most gripping and interesting moments. After reading an exclusive interview with Fincher in Film Comment the interviewer even stated, “ I just can’t understand Team Amy. I see it as a movie about a basically nice guy who falls for a crazy woman.” Fincher responds saying she isn’t crazy, but made crazy. However, the interviewer proves that is not how the film portrays its most interesting character. After all, every scene worth rewinding involves Amy, a sharp object, and blood.