Anything but a little scratch, Joe's physical wilderness injury in Lost Without You---how and when it was sustained, it's location, and it's nature---draws a connection between that day long ago with his wife and son in the forest, its outcome, and its lingering impact decades later, not the least of which is the dangerous decline in Joe's spiritual health.
When, How & What
We see these origins represented in the timing of Joe sustaining the puncture wound. Immediately after leading his son "off trail," two things occur: Oliver hears a mountain bluebird, prompting the first mention of that bird song album, and Oliver asks "Have I been here before?" But before Joe has a chance to explain, he stumbles and falls on that log, subsequently sustaining the puncture wound. In an instant, a connection is made between the physical injury and the content of their conversation, further clarified by explanation of Oliver's past heartbreak in the woods, and Joe purchasing "Bird Songs Of The Rocky Mountains." It all centers on this one incident between Joe, Oliver and Oliver's mother.
Joe's physical injury draws a bit of blood (and pain) at first. Otherwise it appears a "clean" puncture. Thinking the wound under control, Joe and Oliver opt to continue the journey. Unbeknownst to them, the infection accompanying the puncture wound begins to spread, causing Joe's health to rapidly decline over the next few days.
Joe's condition begins to deteriorate as the pair attempts to navigate back to the truck. When they pause for a moment and Joe begins recalling Oliver's last time in the woods, while referencing his wife leaving in the aftermath, Joe visibly nurses his side. As the infection from the wound spreads, Joe begins hallucinating, telling Oliver, "We'll be fine Ollie, your mother and I just disagree sometimes. You go have fun," further reinforcing the connection between the current physical injury and the wilderness incident from the past.
Where, Why & What It Means
Besides the plot-based explanation---which we'll save for an upcoming discussion---the fact Joe "banged a rib" specifically connects the cause of his spiritual decline to its source, and even draws on a biblical reference. Remember that God, "...took one of the man's ribs...[then] made a woman from the rib... That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:21-22; 24).
Joe's banged rib is an allusion to his damaged marriage to Oliver's mother, exemplified by their argument that day in the woods, "more raw and bitter than it had ever been before," and his wife's subsequent departure "a few weeks later." This is also why the physical injury is sustained in the same area where they went hiking all those years ago.
Their broken relationship created an injury that "drew blood" initially, but left an open wound that lingered. Never completely working through the pain associated with the infidelity, his wife's departure, the divorce and possibly even her death, Joe allowed the emotional and spiritual wounds to remain unhealed, and instead poured himself into being Oliver's father. Yet even his relationship with Oliver eventually inflicted further injury. Failing to "treat" his emotional and spiritual wounds, Joe essentially allowed the growing "infection" to become systematic over time, the most recent "symptom" the ease with which he wagered against God. He is in a spiritually very dangerous place.
What is interesting about both Joe's physical and emotional injuries is that he is incapable of healing himself in either case---he is without medication and unable to reach the truck. It's a life or death situation in both a literal and figurative sense. Yet instead of focusing on "treating" either category of wounds, it should be noted that throughout the entire trip Joe is encouraging Oliver to "treat" himself in a sense, to "go back [home] and start over."
Oliver, too, had an injury that required attention, also incurred that day long ago in the woods, the impact of which is almost immediately manifested in the aftermath. I mentioned in a previous post that Joe may have had an ulterior motive for bringing Oliver on this hike decades later, looking to help his son for whom it had taken decades "to come back to the forest."
It is the intricate weaving of both Joe and Oliver's stories, and wounds, that make the impact and outcome of their wilderness journey so powerful. But to understand it fully will require taking an in-depth look at the nature of Oliver's injury as well, a task we will take up tomorrow.
Checking For Scratches,