Into the Wild

You will be

intothewild.jpg      Inspired

                     Enlightened    

                                  Intrigued

                                                  and moved.

 The best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

This is the true story of Chris McCandless. A spellbinding movie screenplay and directed by Sean Penn.

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. He survived a flash flood, but lost his car. He also paddled a canoe down remote stretches of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California, McCandless took pride in surviving with a minimum of gear and funds, and generally made little preparation.

For years, McCandless dreamed of an "Alaskan Odyssey" where he would live off the land, far away from civilization, and keep a journal describing his physical and spiritual progress as he faced the forces of nature. In April 1992 McCandless hitchhiked to Fairbanks, Arizona. He was last seen alive by James Gallien, who gave him a ride from Fairbanks to the Stampede Trail. Gallien was concerned about "Alex", who had minimal supplies (not even a magnetic campass) and no experience of surviving in the Alaskan bush. Gallien repeatedly tried to persuade Alex to defer his trip, and even offered to drive him to buy suitable equipment and supplies. However, McCandless ignored Gallien’s warnings, refusing all assistance except for a pair of rubber boots, two tuna melts and a bag of corn chips. Eventually, Gallien dropped him at the head of the Stampede Trail on Tuesday, April 28, 1992.

Into the Wild combines two popular genres: the road trip and the struggle of man versus nature. Both are handled well by Penn and their interweaving is effective. As the movie begins, Chris (Emile Hirsch) has already reached his goal: the unspoiled Alaskan wilderness. He finds an abandoned, non-functional bus in the middle of nowhere that provides shelter. Flashbacks are employed to show how he got there. Meanwhile, interspersed with these lengthy glimpses of the past, the narrative in the present moves forward, gradually straying into darker territory. Chris’ story is both heroic and cautionary; brave and foolish. Penn gets this. He does not lionize the character or his actions. He shows admiration for a man who would go to these lengths in pursuit of a dream and a cause. In the end, however, there is a simple lesson to be learned: happiness is meaningless unless you have someone to share it with. The movie ends on a poignant note.

The movie is narrated by Chris’ sister, Carine (Jena Malone); Chris’ perspective is too narrow to allow him to present the "bigger picture" that Carine sees. We meet him as a child, trapped between his warring parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden), then as a newly graduate of Emory University. Even as he earns his degree, he is turning his back on the materialistic life his parents have mapped out for him. He donates all his money to OXFAM, torches his ID, then goes walkabout. Now known by the moniker of "Alexander Supertramp," he heads west. The year is 1990 and the era of the hippie is long past, but that doesn’t stop him from encountering a couple of them (Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker). He stays with them for a time, learning from them and sharing with them before moving on. His next stop has him working for a grain harvester (Vince Vaughn) whose "extracurricular" activities get him in trouble with the law. Then, by rail and river, Chris heads west, his sights now firmly set on Alaska as his eventual destination. He re-encounters the hippies and has a brief romance with a teenage singer (Kristen Stewart) in a gypsy camp. At his last stop, he is "adopted" by a lonely, aging man (Hal Holbrook).

It is said that in road movies, the journey is what matters, not the destination, and that’s the case in Into the Wild. For Chris, the trip to Alaska is what gives him joy. The people he meets along the way – whether the hippies, the underage singer whose sexual overtures he spurns (making us wonder about his sexuality), or the grandfather-figure – enrich his existence. When he reaches the North and goes into the wilderness by himself, he ultimately finds the experience to be hollow. It takes him a while to recognize that his spiritual journey reaches its conclusion long before the physical one does.

Into the Wild is a beautifully made motion picture and some of the segments (especially those with Hal Holbrook and those that transpire around "the magic bus" in Alaska) are powerful. Chris initially comes across as an idealistic jerk – the kind of guy who will thoughtlessly hurt others if they stand in the way of his achieving a goal. Gradually, he is revealed as being more complex. By the end of the movie I understood him and sympathized with him, and sometimes that’s more important.

Emile Hirsch has a difficult job – that of taking a character whose base motivations are selfish and transforming him into someone in whose presence we can endure two and one-half hours. To do this, Hirsch represents Chris not as an anti-hero but as someone who has been betrayed and wounded by his parents and society at every corner. The eclectic supporting cast provides Hirsch with effective backing. Catherine Keener is as delightful as ever and something about her in all the movies she’s acting in I enjoy watching her, Vince Vaughn plays it straight without a hint of goofiness, and Hal Holbrook may be better here than at any time in his long career.

During the course of Into the Wild, Penn dances with pretentiousness and self-importance. He never slips over the brink but lines like "material things cut [Chris] off from the truth of [his] existence" make this kid’s odyssey sound more important than it is. There are moments like this in Into the Wild but they are thankfully isolated. Eddie Vedder’s songs also smack of being too preachy, but they are as easily forgotten as they are forgettable.

During Chris’s adventure he keeps journals in which he sees himself in the thrid person as a heroic loner, renouccing civilization, returning to embrace nature.  He sees himself not as homeless, but as a man freed from homes. And then disappears from the maps of memory, into unforgiving Alaska. He was all he dreamed of. He finds an adandoned bus where no bus should be and makes it his home.  He tries hunting, not very successfully. He lives off land, but the land is a zero-tolerance sytem. From his journals and other evidence, Sean Penn recontructs his final weeks. Emile Hirsch plays him in a hypnotic performance, turning skelatal, his eyes into his skull while they still burn with zeal. It is great acting, and more than acting.

This is a reflective, regretful, serious
film about a young man swept away by his uncompromsing choices. Two of the more truthful statement in recent culture are that we need a little help from our friends, and that sometimes we must depend on the kindness of strangers. If you don’t know those two things and accept them, you will end up evenually in a bus of one kind or another. Sean Penn himself fiercely idealistic, uncompromising, a little less angry now must have read the book and reflected that there, ut for the grace of God, went he.

The movie is so good partly because it means so much.

McCandless died of starvation, brought on by probable potato seed poisoning, in the Alaskan back-country in 1992 at the age of 24. The young man romanticized every breath he took, every word of Jack London and Leo Tolstoy he read. Long before he went native he started calling himself "Alexander Supertramp." He spent his final days living in an abandoned bus. By the end, in journal entries, he reverted to his given name.

The movie is also beautifully photographed has gorgeous scenery.

The Academy Awards has lost it’s meaning and purpose, there should of been Oscar winnings for this movie or at least nominations.

My rating ..   4.5 out of 5 stars

*Some of the information provided are excerpts from sources that provide a more in-depth synopsis to the film.

One comment

  1. computer technology · May 31, 2013

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now
    each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service? Appreciate it!

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