Fact-Checking the Film: 'Wild'
Oscar season is here, which means a flurry of fact-based movies are on their way to theaters. EW is fact-checking these films—everything from The Theory of Everything to Wild—to see just how true-to-life they turned out.
Wild the film is true to the spirit of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, which chronicles her hike across the Pacific Crest Trail following the death of her mother. It’s also, save for some smaller changes, accurate.
Strayed is a producer on the film, andNick Hornby consolidated Strayed’s book elegantly. For the most part, what happens in the film is also in the book. In real life, Cheryl met more people and made more stops on her long trek; Hornby shuffled around some of those occurrences, and, in some instances, combined situations. For example: Cheryl did not actually encounter two somewhat threatening hunters after she desperately goes to a gross-looking pond to get water—but she did encounter them later in her journey, and they did ask her for water.
Many of the differences boil down to things omitted for the purpose of sticking to a two-hour running time. It goes without saying that for a fuller picture of what Strayed’s journey was like, you should read Wild, a beautiful book.
Here, however, is a brief rundown of how the film differs from Strayed’s account:
Movie: Cheryl has one sibling: a brother, Leif.
Real life: This is ultimately the biggest change to the film. Bobbi was re-married to a man named Eddie at the time of her death, and Cheryl and Leif also had an older sister named Karen. Both Eddie and Karen are missing in the movie. By the time of her hike, the real Cheryl had grown distant from Eddie. In the book, Strayed writes about her family breaking apart following her mother’s death: “Without her, Eddie slowly became a stranger. Leif and Karen and I drifted into our own lives.” The omission of Eddie means that when Cheryl starts off on the trail in Mojave, she puts down her ex-husband Paul’s address on the registration form.
Movie: In the film, Cheryl has three meaningful, extended encounters with other people who are hiking the trail.Before reaching Kennedy Meadows, Cheryl meets only one other hiker, the friendly Greg. Later, in separate instances, she meets another female hiker, and a group of three young men who are hiking the trail.
Real life: Cheryl encountered a community of people also hiking the trail—she even walked with some for brief stretches.
Movie: When Cheryl reaches Kennedy Meadows, she is informed her boots are too small—but she can call REI to get a new pair. She picks them up farther along the trail after losing one boot down a cliff and tossing the other one.
Real life: Cheryl didn’t find out that she could get a new pair of boots until making a later stop. She attempts to wait for her boots there, but after realizing they will take too long to arrive, she moves on in her battered feet. As in the movie, she loses the boots and picks her new pair up later.
Movie: Cheryl receives a copy of James Michener’s The Novel in one of her packages at Kennedy Meadows, prompting a flashback about an argument between her and her mother about Michener.
Real life: She trades her Flannery O’Connor collection for the book from a family staying in a cabin near Packer Lake Lodge, one of the stops that was excised from the movie.
Movie: Cheryl bypasses portion of the trail to avoid snow alone after Kennedy Meadows.
Real life: After starting out on the PCT again, Cheryl bypasses with Greg.
Movie: Jonathan, the man Cheryl meets in Ashland, approaches her and invites her to a concert in honor of Jerry Garcia. She’s wearing a Bob Marley shirt. Later, after they’ve spent the night together, she writes Paul’s name in the sand on the beach outside their apartment.
Real life: Jonathan approaches Cheryl at a club in Ashland and they bond over her Wilco t-shirt. (She had lost a Bob Marley shirt she received from someone on her journey earlier on.) She and Jonathan take a day trip to a beach. She writes Paul’s name in the sand there.
Movie: Toward the end of the film, Cheryl reaches a camp in the rain. The ranger is heading out, but gets Cheryl’s box for her after she agrees to have a drink with him. Three young men—in the book she calls them the Three Young Bucks—show up, and Cheryl convinces the ranger to give them their boxes too. Cheryl avoids having a drink with him.
Real life: Cheryl has met these men already on the trail, and ends up taking them to the ranger’s for that drink.
Movie: A woman drops Cheryl off in Mojave at the beginning of her trip.
Real life: A man drops her off. There’s a good reason for this change, though: In the film, the woman is played by Strayed herself, in a cameo appearance.