'Wild' director Jean-Marc Vallee explains the movie's memory music

December 4, 2014 11:23 PM

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In the first moments of Wild, Cheryl Strayed—played by Reese Witherspoon—is on a cliff, preparing to rip off one of her toenails. Through heavy breaths, she says to herself, “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail”—lyrics you may recognize from Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa (If I Could).” Director Jean-Marc Vallée envisioned that trilling song as the movie’s theme.

In the film, which is based on Strayed’s memoir about hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother, music often functions as memory—meshing into the movie’s flashbacks, sometimes even seeming to emerge out of Cheryl’s own mind as she sings to herself on the trail. Tiny bits of...

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