It has to be said that there aren’t a huge number of movies about hiking which given the popularity of it as a pastime is a little surprising. There are quite a few movies that use outdoor activity as a conduit for something more sinister (my girlfriend is a horror film buff!) but very few that actually follow a journey. For me this is a missed opportunity especially if you choose to focus on long distance hiking. First of all you get the landscapes, many long distance paths are in areas that are a cinematographers dream, you know the kind of thing, epic sweeps of mountain ridges and forested landscapes before zero-ing in on the tiny figures determinedly striding across the bottom of the screen. Long distance hikes tend to attract less conventional characters….plenty of scope for creating an interesting ensemble cast. The “set” already exists so no need for expensive special effects or digital trickery, it’s all already there waiting for you. Finally, long distance hikes are invariably about more than just the physical journey, there is very often a spiritual dimension, an aspect of pushing personal boundaries and emotional highs and lows along the way. Put all these things together and, to my slightly biased eye, you have all the ingredients for a silverscreen blockbuster! However, over the last few years there have been a few of these films made and below I offer a few thoughts and opinions on them……
This was the film that got be thinking about this topic. It is set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route and stars Martin Sheen as an American ophthalmologist who walks the route after his estranged son dies whilst trying to undertake it. The film has the perfect combination of factors I have described. There is the emotional journey, the eccentric collection of fellow hikers Avery (Sheen’s character) falls in with are appealing and interesting and the landscape is beautiful. But for me it’s the little things that really define this as a hiker’s movie. The scenes in the dorms full of snoring pilgrims, the “shall I walk with them….”awkwardness on the trail, the blessed moments of solitude are all there and I was reminded of moments of my own on long distance hikes and captivated. Watching this made me want to walk “The Way” and that would seem to be the ultimate compliment to a hiking film.
Maybe the best known hiking movie of recent times, this film follows Cheryl Strayed (played by the fantastic Reese Witherspoon) on a physical journey along the Pacific Crest Trail and an emotional journey back from a very dark place. Again, the film touches all the bases. The landscape is breathtaking, the emotional highs and lows of the protagonist are real and Witherspoon is outstanding in portraying them. There is a very real feel of both a meaningful physical and emotional journey along the way. There is a cliche that we enter the wilderness to “find ourselves” but the virtues of self reliance and overcoming adversity via a truly adventurous hike are writ large across this excellent movie.
A WALK IN THE WOODS
Whilst Cheryl Strayed walked on the PCT, in this amiable, buddy movie Bill Bryson and Stephen Katz undertake another American classic, the Appalachian Trail. The film is based on Bryson’s book and has the same gentle, comedic thread which is essentially “two unprepared old duffers wandering in the wilderness” but there’s also a deeper, underlying message about letting life pass us by and fear getting in the way of doing things and that resonated with me. Amicalola Falls State Park provides the spectacular scenery and Nick Nolte is great as the truculent Katz. It’s a warm film and one that certainly stirred up my interest in having a go at one of these truly epic long distance trails.
My last selection, Edie, differs from the other choices in that it’s not about a long distance trail, but it has real resonance for me as it’s about the relationship between a guide and a client as well as deeper themes and the leit motif “It’s never too late”. Sheila Hancock plays the eponymous pensioner who decides to climb Suilven after the death of her husband and with life in a retirement home looming. The Scottish highlands are beautifully shot and the story is poignant and moving. It’s a little closer to home and it firmly established Suilven as a peak that I need to visit at some stage in the future.
So, four very different films but all films that blend spectacular landscapes with human emotions, pathos, humour and drama. Why not have a watch and let us know what you think about them in the comments box below? Or maybe, we have missed out one of your favourites. Why not make a recommendation for our next rainy, lockdown afternoon.