17 September 2015

"A Walk in the Woods"

We went to see A Walk in the Woods the other night. Based on a nonfiction account by Bill Bryson and starring a 79-year old Robert Redford (who doesn't look a day over 70) as Bryson and Nick Nolte, who looked older than his 74 years, as Stephen Katz, Bryson's knock-about friend from many years before, the film portrays two aging men as they progress along the 2000-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail. A bit heavy-handed at times, the film uses the notion of a long hike as a metaphor for life: up and down with plenty of problems and disagreements. The decision of Bryson and Katz to quit short of the destination of Mount Katahdin, satisfactory but not perfectly complete, aptly symbolizes the course of most of our lives.

As many reviewers have noted, A Walk in the Woods plods along. I'm not so sure that's a defect. After all, how many of our lives zip and zoom? There were, however, enough gaps to be annoying. Thus, at a family-run hotel the mother of the operator seemed to have some sort of dementia. Sitting at the front desk without apparent comprehension she reached for and tightly held the hand of Katz as he and Bryson checked in. At her daughter's urging, mom eventually let go. But in subsequent conversations with the daughter nothing about mom was asked or discussed. A missed opportunity and a noticeable oversight.

Katz's exceptionally profane manner of speech probably accounts for the film's R rating. One assumes the screenplay reflects Bryson's book and it in turn Katz's patterns of everyday conversation. Viewers might nonetheless wish to know that his vulgarity level is quite high.

Both lead characters demonstrate development. Bryson's level of pretension falls and Katz's level of self-awareness increases. By the time they quit the hike both feel free to return home without regret. Being satisfied with home and ultimately with the life we've lead is the film's theme. Satisfaction with one's efforts and the process of life, not social or professional success, is the key to happiness.

We thought A Walk in the Woods was worthwhile and with the foregoing cautionary notes recommend it to others.

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