PLOT: Christopher McCandless finally had enough. Enough of his parents, enough of the corporate world around him and enough of living by other people’s rules. One day, he gave away his savings to charity, abandoned his car and found himself on a long journey to Alaska. He never told his family where he was, leaving them with constant worry and fear. Yet he still carried on finding himself in the company of many other souls who were looking for their very own piece of America. Chris may have found it but paid a steep price in the process of freedom.
REVIEW: Sean Penn is known for making deeply fractured tales of man as a director and many times as an actor. With THE INDIAN RUNNER, THE PLEDGE and THE CROSSING GUARD, he achieved an aching realism that found a small audience while not becoming mainstream success stories. With INTO THE WILD, he has created his most stunningly epic work of art. It is his most accessible story to date and it is very likely that audiences will connect with this tale of searching for self and finding more than you bargained for. Not only thought provoking, but altogether an emotional journey that will make you see through the eyes of it’s protagonist, but also, the eye’s of those who help (or hinder) him on his journey.
Based on a true story and the book written by Jon Krakauer, INTO THE WILD centers on a young man named Christopher McCandless (played fearlessly by Emile Hirsch) who seems to have lost his way in society. He is angry at his parents, Walt and Billie, played so honestly by William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden. And he is angry at the privileged life he has become accustomed to. At 22-years-old, Chris decided to get out and he left his life behind. A recent college graduate with honors, he had every opportunity to become a part of the system. Yet, leaving his mother and father, and his loving sister Carine (also beautifully played by Jena Malone) behind, he found himself on the road to his final destination, Alaska. He only knows that he will be out in the open, away from everything and everyone. Alone and free.
We see early on Chris finding what may be his final destination as he arrives at the “magic bus” where he finally gets his wish… to be alone. Meanwhile we are introduced to moments in his history. His graduation from college as his parents let him know that they will be getting him a new car, which he will have non of. The beginning of his journey as he cuts up his credit cards and abandons his car. He gives away his college fund and finds himself without any luxuries or money, with the logic that he will find what he needs to survive. And we also witness his rebirth as Alexander Supertramp, a name he gives himself so nobody will know his true identity. We also see his family and their desperation, not knowing where Chris has gone. In what may be one of the most heartbreaking scenes, Billie wakes up from a nightmare convinced she heard her son call out to her.
Not only does Mr. Penn direct his actors with ease, he also offers up an amazing look at the landscape which Chris crosses. Nature and man are truly at one as this dude travels from California to Colorado, all the way until his final destination. Eric Gautier has worked as a traveling cinematographer before in the wonderful THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, and he continues his impressive work with this. Both films featured the outdoors as part of the character and the essence of the movie. Together, he and Sean give the viewer one hell of a treat as we see the massive wilderness, and also the wild side of being homeless in a large city.
As for the script, I haven’t read the book, but Mr. Penn’s interpretation seemed to speak volumes about McCandless. I’m assuming that much of the dialogue may have been lifted from Chris’ words, but it is strong and courageously written by not making Chris a hero. At times he is a weak young man, getting back at his parents for fighting, yet moments later he is able to find joy out of the most simple moments. He sits eating what he considers the most amazing apple in the world. Emile even jokes at the camera sitting in front of him after experiencing the greatest piece of fruit ever. He looks right into it and smiles. At that moment, he is happy to be alive. And I was happy to be experiencing it with him.
INTO THE WILD has the ability to make you look deeper into your own life, yet it’s not so quick to judge. The characters are wonderfully human and they all felt very real. Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook and of course Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt are all wonderfully played. Each and every character is full of flaws and beauty at the same time. And will someone tell me why Catherine Keener is not a huge star. She is stunningly vibrant here as a woman Chris meets along the way, along with her lover played by Brian Dierker (also quite good). She is so perfect in every role I see her in that it is always a pleasure to watch. She is vulnerable, she is beautiful and she is very natural and she is frankly, one of the best actresses in Hollywood.
As for Emile Hirsch, it is easy to sympathize with this guy. He makes you care, even when you feel he is being a fool for his actions. As he gets closer to the end, you find his struggle more and more fascinating. It’s very nice that he is so flawed. Hell, I was angry with the dude a few times as to his reasons to carry on without telling his parents. His story is told without feeling preached upon or force fed his realities which can be credited to his performance, the script and his direction. A fine, fine performance.
Sean Penn has managed to create his most accomplished film yet and is given ample support from his cast and crew. He even has Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder being the musical voice of the film. The songs fit perfectly into the film and Mr. Vedder gives an added emotional punch to what is already a intense and beautiful journey.