Into the Wild

Into the Wild

Film review by: Witney Seibold

wild2.jpg            In 1992, Christopher McCandless was found dead in an abandoned bus out in the woods of Alaska. He had accidentally eaten a poisonous plant after he was unable to hunt any game. He had been previously missing for over two years, his family never knowing where he was.

          

  “Into the Wild” tells the story of those two years in McCandless’ life. McCandless (Emile Hirch, better than he’s ever been) graduated college, and immediately, without the knowledge of his parents and sister, burned his money and social security card, gave all his saving to charity, and struck out onto the roads of America armed only with his bedroll, knapsack, and determination not to be held down by any sort of societal rules. He travels through the woods, down rapids, into Mexico and back, eating food he finds or hunts himself, and making temporary friends. He spends time with migratory hippies and kind old men. Most of his time was spent camping and admiring the beauty of the world and reading the occasional great work of literature (that Walden is chief among them should not come as a surprise). His ultimate goal is Alaska, where the air is clearest and the natural world the most bountiful.

 

            The film crosscuts between the bulk of his journey, and the last few months of his life, living in that aforementioned bus, indicating his fate, and showing the purity of his need to live in the wild. The film is largely narrated by McCandless’ sister (Jena Malone) Eventually secrets are revealed about his parents that allow us to understand young Chris all the better.

 

            Documenting this sort of journey in a film can seem ponderous and preachy. It’s all too easy to show a young man’s journey into nature while secretly screaming “See how easy it is to live off the land, you resource-devouring, pollution-spewing city-zombies!?” Director Sean Penn, though, never once falls into that trap. We can see McCandless’ simple approach to life, may feel a sting of envy that we haven’t taken to the land ourselves. When “Kimng of the Road” comes on the soundtrack, it does not fel contrived, but genuine. Every moment of “Into the Wild” feels genuine. We are given some harsh truths about McCandless’ parents, but in casting seasoned actors like William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden in the roles, the parents come across as complex, if not selfish and WASPy, human beings. A lesser director would have made them bullying caricatures.

 

            Kristen Stewart shows up as a 16-year-old wandering minstral who falls in love with Christopher. Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker are the hippie couple whose relationship is renewed by Christopher (a telling little piece of throw-off dialogue: “He reminds me of…” “Shh. I know”). Vince Vaughn plays a blustery mill boss who takes Christopher under his wing for a brief period. And, most touching, Hal Holbrook appears as a kindly old man who is at first a little weirded out by Christopher’s need to be away from people, and eventually can barely let the boy go. The scene where they part is wrenching.

             The film is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, but does not drag. It is exhilarating without being cloying or “uplifting” in the melodramatic Hollywood sense. This is Sean Penn’s fourth feature film as a director, is easily his best, and is one of the better films I’ve seen this year.

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Published in: on October 5, 2007 at 10:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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