• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:August 6, 2018

Into the Wild: Dream or Death Wish


intothewildThe story of Christopher McCandless continues to be controversial. Jon Krakauer’s book, the documentary, and now this film by Sean Penn all address the positive aspects of the young man who ended up starving to death in 1992 in the Alaskan wilderness. But, as a friend of mine told me, everybody she knows who have seen the movie end up taking sides for or against him. Was he foolish and arrogant or simply a dreamer seduced by the call of the wild? The truth encompasses all of those things.

In 1990, Chris (Emile Hirsch) graduates from Emory University in Georgia. His relationship with his parents (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden) is not good for several reasons, one of them being Chris’s perception of them as cold and materialistic. He doesn’t want to follow in their footsteps and decides to make a clean break, donating the rest of his college funds to Oxfam, cutting his credit card in half and destroying his ID documents. Chris disappears without telling his parents or sister (Jena Malone) where he’s going. The plan is to head to Alaska and live in the wilderness, off the land. It’s a long journey though, taking Chris through a few adventures and to beautiful places.

He also meets many different people, some of whose lives he touches, including those of a hippie couple, a 16-year-old girl (Kristen Stewart) who develops a crush on him, and an old man (Hal Holbrook) who comes to regard him almost as a son. Eventually, Chris ends up right where he wanted to be, far away from civilization… and from his parents whose hearts he has broken.

Overwhelmingly emotional
Penn’s fourth movie as a director became his best so far, an overwhelmingly emotional and exceptionally skilful portrayal of a bright kid who fell in love with the romanticized idea of nature as a peaceful place where one can live like a hermit, forever protected from the evils of mankind, in complete harmony with the surroundings. It is unclear though whether or not he truly understood how foolish his venture was; he didn’t even bring a compass or a map.

His journey and all the encounters he has with strangers who become close friends are divided by Penn into chapters that are named after the parts of a person’s life, from childhood and onwards, indicating that McCandless is maturing, but it’s also a way of taking us closer to him. The relationships bring some meaning to his life, a contrast to the utter pointlessness of his death in that abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere. Penn also balances the charm of Chris’s impact on his new friends with the stark reality that he hurt his parents in the cruelest way possible, underscoring the dark selfishness of his behavior. The acting is peerless; it is a joy to watch Holbrook as the old man who has settled for something lesser, but is made to reconsider.

The cinematography and Penn’s direction give the film a feeling of being shot by someone who decided to tag along and capture the trek on camera, which is highly effective. So is the soundtrack, a collection of songs performed (and in most cases also written) by Eddie Vedder; the standout is “Guaranteed”, likely to be stuck in your head when the end credits have rolled.

In 2006, an Alaskan Park Ranger wrote an essay deploring all the young men who come to his state looking for a romantic, isolated life in the wild. I understand him; he probably has to rescue them after a couple of weeks. It is easy to admire the dream; a part of me certainly does. But the sad truth is that in order to follow in Chris McCandless’s tracks one needs to pair the dream with a death wish.Ā 

Into the Wild 2007-U.S. 148 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced byĀ Art Linson, Sean Penn, Bill Pohlad. Written and directed byĀ Sean Penn. Book: Jon Krakauer. Cinematography: Eric Gautier. Song: “Guaranteed” (Eddie Vedder). Editing: Jay Cassidy. Cast: Emile Hirsch (Chris McCandless), William Hurt (Walt McCandless), Marcia Gay Harden (Billie McCandless), Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn… Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Zach Galifianakis.

Golden Globe: Best Original Song.

Last word:Ā ā€œI read the book when it came out. I read it twice in a row. I started to get the rights to it the next day. The impression that Jon Krakauer’s book made on me and Chris McCandless’ story made on me was the movie that I made. That’s what I read. I then embellished [with] my collaborators later. But the structure, the skeleton of this thing, was… Jon had me 75% of the movie that you saw already, and I had 25% of making cinematic in what he’d made in literature, to do that with my partners.” (Penn, About.com)

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