Random thought: film vs book, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild

I watched Wild before I read Cheryl Strayed’s book. Well, I watched most of Wild. I was on a plane and turbulence meant that I didn’t get to finish watching before landing. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, but the film didn’t prepare me for the emotional rollercoaster that the book turned out to be for me.

I don’t mind watching a film before I’ve read a book, but I’m often reluctant to watch films based on books that I have read and loved with a passion, mainly for the reason that the screenwriter and the director don’t share my impressions of the book and its characters.

Wild was on TV last night, though, and I watched it again so that I could see the end. Having read the book, and knowing that Cheryl and her experiences are so much more than the film could contain, I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon’s performance much more. I’d found her strangely earnest on my first watch.

What I didn’t enjoy was the knowledge of what had been cut from the full story in order to fit within the time boundaries of a cinema release. So much of what was behind Cheryl’s life decisions was omitted, and the flashbacks to the actions she was driven to by grief lacked nuance. I suspect that this paring back of context was what made Witherspoon’s performance seem so earnest first time around.

I watched the credits and saw that the screenwriter was Nick Hornby. I recognise that reducing such a packed and complex book into a feature film is a big challenge. I think he did a good job, but it did make me wonder how a female screenwriter would have tackled Cheryl’s past and the way the hike changed her, and whether a woman would have interpreted Cheryl’s encounters with the people she meets along the way differently. One thing in particular that Hornby seemed not to appreciate was why Cheryl’s time with Jonathan was so significant for her.

And for all that Nick Hornby’s own writing as a novelist is peppered with musical references, the film didn’t make the most of how important music is in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir. I found that odd second time around.

Film adaptations can be a double edged thing, I guess. How do you feel about watching films based on books you love?

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3 thoughts on “Random thought: film vs book, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild

  1. Interesting! I read the book earlier this year and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it (I don’t really know what I expected). Anyway, I bought the DVD but haven’t watched it yet – thought if I watched it immediately after the book I’d be doing too much comparing. Mostly want to see the film for what I’m hoping will be spectacular scenery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Because I’d seen the film, I was expecting something much slighter in tone from the book. It surprised me, too. The film is full of spectacular scenery and there are really beautiful moments – when she first encounters the fox, and when the little boy sings to her – plus the scene where she encounters the hunters is more intense because it’s condensed. It is a good film, I just wish a woman had adapted it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am always very apprehensive watching an adaptation of a book I love. I expect the worst so that if anything, I’ll be pleasantly surprised—and I try to make myself think of it as a separate thing, not just the book represented visually (as I wish it would be), but a different art form essentially inspired by the book. That usually works pretty well, because then even if I hate the movie, it doesn’t spoil my connection to the book. I did like this one, and I agree with you that a woman probably would have interpreted it differently—likely better.

    Liked by 1 person

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