This week I discussed two travel books, both have been adapted to very similar movies. You wouldn’t think they would be the same, but they are. The differences are very surface level.
Wild: About a woman who has living a hard like and has a history of making poor choices. She hopes that walking the Pacific Crest Trail will help her work through her issues. The main character is in her late 20s/early 30s. The actress who plays her is in her late 30s/early 40s. Other than that, the movie is very true to the book.
A Walk In The Woods: About a man who realizes he is getting old and is already being remembered for past works. He hopes walking the Appalachian Trail, with a friend, a man who is a hot mess, in hopes of… well, it depends on if you are reading the book or watching the movie. The book is far more about the trip and the movie is more about the revelations that life is hardly over. The actor who plays him is in his late 70s. When the writer wrote the book, and walked the trail, he was probably in his mid-40s.
Here is what I am realizing about the memoir, especially in film, viewers need the main character to have a crisis that only the journey can resolve. Strayed wrote that book in a period when this is common for memoir books. Bryson doesn’t write the typical memoirs, if you can even call it that. He writes travel books that he is a character within. The fun is the sarcasm and irreverent humor. I don’t believe Bryson fans are looking for him to resolve a crisis on his travels, even if he openly admits to have something he is working through. For example, in Notes From A Small Island, he admits that he is struggling with moving his family to America after decades in the UK (for him, at least).
I suspect adapting his book was a struggle because, in movies, there needs to be a crisis that they can solve in 2 hours. In fact, I think that is why they ended the journey before it technically was over in the book. In the movie, once the pair decide to go home after the first leg of the trip, the entire thing ends. It ignores Bryson going off on his own for a while and then he and Katz finishing up the last portion of the trail together. The point being, you would lose that crisis resolution if they go home, live the comfy life, and then come back together again.
I enjoyed Wild, the movie, far more than I expected. It was beautifully shot and Witherspoon did a good job. She was a great choice. As for A Walk In The Woods, I wasn’t as annoyed by the age changes as I was afraid I would be. Redford and Nolte were fantastic together. I am not sure Redford nailed playing Bryson, but he did a good job. I had a sense that each man was playing a version of himself.
Imagine: Robert Redord and Nick Nolte go on a walk through the Appalachian Trail. Now you know what that movie is about.