Movie Review-Into The Wild
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.