To make a good movie of a book, you have to re-vision it.
Wild is a good book: a young woman, Cheryl, sets out to burn off the painful accretions of her life by hiking 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way she remembers the death of her mother and the failure of her marriage.
Wild, the film, which I saw last night, illustrates the book faithfully. In reverencing the source material, however, the film doesn't enlarge it, it reduces it, like photos from a vacation. The movie's not bad, but it plods along literally, telling us Cheryl's backstory in flashbacks; it doesn't translate it into the natural language of film: images & sounds.
How far can the pictures–– faces and color and light and movement–– carry the story?
Where visuals can't, can nonverbal sounds?
Music? Or, must we resort to words here?
Along with that, I'd ask, What can we strip away? What's the kernel?
John Le Carre has said he doesn't mind movie makers cutting his books; it's like making a bouillon cube from an ox.
Of course some films of books would still be wordy, such as To Kill a Mockingbird--though don't the images stay with you as much as the story?--the child's hand sorting objects in a cigar box; the reveal of Boo, ghostly, behind a door.
But Wild was too wordy---the words crowded out the weirdness of memory, of nature. Memories don't present themselves in set-designed flashbacks.
_______________II. Lost Opportunity
I'd have liked to see Wild presented more like the wordless All Is Lost, also about a person alone in the wilderness (Robert Redford, at sea).
Wild, of course, is about the memories we carry as much as physical survival, and All Is Lost is not concerned with emotional baggage. In fact, Lost was too stripped down for me--without the inter- or intrapersonal, I wasn't terribly interested.
Still, I was held by the film mastery of Lost, and it has stayed with me, while what I took from Wild is disappointment. Mild disappointment.
Cheryl isn't wild in the film, she's packaged.
III. Breaking Nature Open
The movie that best gets human nature in nature is this year's Force Majeure. Comparing it with Wild feels unfair, like comparing a sincere beginner's efforts with an Olympic performance.
The story is, a shiny Swedish family goes on an Alpine ski vacation, and during a controlled avalanche that seems to be out of control, the father flees, leaving his wife and children in harm's way.
There's dialogue and scraps of music, but featured is the sound of machinery ceaselessly running to control natural forces: explosions set off to release snow build-up; humming fleets of machines to groom the slopes; creaks and groans of tow pulleys, moving ski-walks.
The sounds are ominous, but the ski resort's machines work.
What breaks down is the social machine, and it's a thrill to watch the aftermath.
Wild, in contrast, has the force of a refrigerator magnet.