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Movie Review-Into The Wild

Updated on November 17, 2012

Into The Wild - A Movie About A Man's Escape Into Nature

Into The Wild was directed by the award winning actor Sean Penn.

It was made in 2007 and stars Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless, a Emory University graduate who turns his back on everything, literally everything in his life and goes off to seek his own version of reality in 'the wild'.

He donates his $24,000 life savings to charity and is seen burning what little money he has left after abandoning his car on a flash flood plain.

His ideals of a life in the wilderness will take the viewer on an amazing journey, though not a hero's journey this time. In that respect, the awakening of Christopher McCandless and his return to his own reality does not occur but the movie is very good in spite of this.

His dream is to travel west until he reaches Alaska and once there, to live in the real wilderness.

The people he meets along the way are just as important to the story as his time in Alaska because each of them, in their own way, will influence him.

Sean Penn used the non-fiction book of McCandless' journey by Jon Krakauer as his template and spares us none of the wonder of the wilderness, nor the terror of not surviving your dream.


Alexander Supertramp

Christopher McCandless was a 21 year old Virginian student who turned his back on his entire life.

He left his car in a flooded ditch, put on his backpack and set off on foot to find himself.

He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp. Alexander became a sort of explorer without boundaries - all he was interested in was the wilderness but he kept his journey all to himself, burning his money and his identity card and cutting himself off from family and friends.

Nothing could hold him back, he cut all ties and went into the wild to find himself and his place in the world.

Into the Wild - Kayaking on the river
Into the Wild - Kayaking on the river
Into the Wild - On the road
Into the Wild - On the road
Into the Wild - Vince Vaughn
Into the Wild - Vince Vaughn

People He Meets On The Journey

The most interesting thing about the people he meets along the way is that they are all as free as he is in their way, living an alternative sort of existence.

The truth is of course, that people are rarely always who they seem to be.

Take Jan and Rainey who pick him up and take him to a hippy commune in Arizona.

At first, all seems well with Jan (Catherine Keener) and Rainey (Brian Dieker), they are genuinely lovely people, somewhat idealist but certainly in love and both very kind.

Their story though is less simple, Jan has abandoned her child for this life with Rainey and her heart is broken because of it.

Wayne Westerberger (Vince Vaughn) works out in the prairie, driving the combine harvesters and gives Chris a job driving the harvesters.

He is a great boss who makes Chris feel part of the team and introduces him to his team of good guys. Chris loves this time working at the grain mill and he builds up a good friendship with Wayne.

But Wayne has his own demons; he is a fugitive. Chris watches Wayne being taken away in handcuffs and that is another of his adventures over.

He travels onwards, even taking a thrilling kayak ride down a dangerous river with nothing but the current to guide him.

Into The Wild - Alexander Supertramp's Guides and Heroes

Throughout the movie we see Chris McCandless reading books. He always seems to go to his favourites, many of them recognised now as following the same spirit as he did.

Jack London, Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau are read over and over again until the books become dog-eared.

His other books are about the natural flora and fauna of Alaska. He intends to live off the land.

He finds an abandoned bus which has clearly been used as a bivouac by somebody before him. He takes over, cleans it up, sets a fire and makes it his home in Alaska. He calls it The Magic Bus.

Ron and Chris
Ron and Chris
Reading outside of the Magic Bus
Reading outside of the Magic Bus
Inside the Magic Bus looking out
Inside the Magic Bus looking out
Magic Bus abandoned
Magic Bus abandoned
The sign left by McCandless
The sign left by McCandless
Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless
Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless

Into the Wild - A Difficult Journey for The Audience

In the movie, Sean Penn manages to keep us interested in Christopher McCandless' journey because of the people who influence them.

He also injects a certain amount of machismo into the movie -isn't this the ultimate challenge for a man? To live by his own guile and wits and to live off all that nature provides?

He will even meet a man who offers his a way back from this choice - brilliant and movingly played by Hal Holbrook, whose character, Ron Franz, has recently lost his wife and is basically a lonely man only too happy to offer his hospitality to this young man who seems so rootless.

Penn's direction is especially good in the long, wordless scenes which run from one to another with cinematic wide screen landscapes, seascapes, river views, mountains and his up close filming of the people in the movie. This juxtaposition of space and intimacy works really well and it is this which underpins this movie's complex themes.

McCandless has turned his back on everything but why?

We learn that his past is as flawed as the strangers' lives.

He genuinely feels like his life up to this moment has been a lie; a fantasy created by his 'dishonest' parents. His sister is devastated when he leaves but it is through her reminiscences of him that we piece together who he has become as a man.

He will not live the life created for him and desired by his parents - he is searching for himself and looking to the wilderness to find himself.

Penn could have made this a lot more macho than he did. He gives us the real McCandless; he is a sweet guy, universally liked by the people he meets on his travels who thinks that he will be able to live his dream.

Penn goes the extra mile with Hirsch in the final frames of this movie which are frustrating to watch for the viewer when it is all going wrong for Alexander Supertramp but keep you watching nonetheless. Hirsch looks emaciated by the end of the movie and he looks so tortured when he is trying to understand the bonatical book and becuase of his exhaustion and hunger, makes important mistakes.

The real Chris McCandless
The real Chris McCandless

Into the Wild - Christopher McCandless, A Complicated Man

Many might watch this movie and think they were in for one man's brave journey to live his dream in his own way.

But Sean Penn never really allows us to do this.

He is happy to make us wonder about McCandlish who had a sweet, loving sister and parents who really loved him.

Did he make this journey as a way of aggravating his parents? But what about his poor sister who really pines for him?

Christopher McCandless did not really go prepared did he? He had a few ropes, a few books, a cigarette lighter, a knife and a rifle. His knowledge of the wild was rudimetary; he was truly hardcore. It was just him and nature.

Sean Penn doesn't big up the nature either, he gives it to us straight, good and bad. We don't get sweeping cinematography with loads of classical music. He could quite easily have overdone it but he stays true to McCandless' experience of the wilderness and this works perfectly.

It is a well directed, thoughtfully composed movie which will leave you feeling somewhat bereft at the end but will have told you an amazing story and left you to ponder on what complex creatures human beings can be.


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    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Audra, thanks, as always for your support of my hubs and many thanks for commenting - it is another movie i never get tired of seeing, mainly because of the great characters he meets along the way. But yes, it is a difficult movie to watch in parts.

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

      Emile Hirsch was pretty good in Sean Penn's adaptation. You also told your readers so vividly what the film is all about and was written well! It was a hard movie to watch emotionally. I may have to see it again because of you!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      JK, I know what you mean about that idea of escaping life and just disappearing into the countryside to live off the land but you need to know your stuff! McCandless was no Bear Grylls or Ray Mears, 2 kings of living off the land and surviving nature's ugly side but I admire him for doing it anyway, just sad that he wasn't really prepared for nature's dark side.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I've seen this film a few times, and thought it was totally awesome. I totally related to McCandless, as the same thoughts of dropping everything and striking out for the wild have often crossed my mind, although I doubt I'd be able to abandon my family and live off the land.

      My favourite scenes in the film was seeing the look of dismay on his face, when the 'ranger' told him he needed a permit to kayak down the river, talk about bureaucracy eh!

      I also liked the scene where he's walking through the city and gazes into a trendy bar and sees a young, presumably successful man chatting up a girl. McCandless sees a vision of how his life may have turned out, and flees. Great work, Jools. Voted up and shared.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Flora, it's a really good movie and keeps you watching all the way through. The scenery is amazing but the best thing about the story are all of the misfits he meets along the way.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

      I haven't seen this film yet. I will have to check it out. Penn sounds like he could switch to directing full time and have a great career.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Jools; I didn't know much about this film. Thanks for the information,


    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      He actually sort of zig-zagged across the country Bob. His plan was to go West and he ended up going to Arizona first so sort of South West? Alaska was his dream destination and that's where he ended up eventually. I think he probably just used the whole 'go West young man' theme but got a bit diverted. Thanks for your comment!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      This is my favorite movie against the odds, especially in the natural world.

      But how did he go "west" to Alaska from Virginia? Is that right?

      Voted up


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