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Sean Penn’s story of Chris Mccandless

Director Sean Penn’s poetic retelling of the noble journey of Chris McCandless relies a lot on the faith of its audience. McCandless (Emile Hirsch) was a university graduate who completed his studies merely to fulfil a conventional path – to end a chapter of his life which had become increasingly meaningless to him.

He then shrugged off the conformities of a society he deplored to live alone, traveling in whichever direction the wind blew him, but ending in the stark and confining wilderness of Alaska.

Donating his savings account to charity, burning his cash and adopting the unlikely moniker of ‘Alexander Supertramp’, McCandless cut all ties with his parents and sister, leaving behind not a clue as to where his calling might take him.

Assuming this new identity, he simply sought to embrace the transparency of living life without need or desire for material possessions and the complications of relationships, saving his sense of communion for nature and a much higher power.

Penn’s film is a testament to the courage of this young man’s will, his determination to make his everyday existence a proclaimation of his beliefs. Admittedly it does, at times, also feel as if he’s attributing McCandless the grace of a martyr, a man who sits above others in a purer state.

Pleading to the spiritual conflict in us all, he enwraps this tortured young man with an extended, though perhaps false, awareness of the universe – one defined more by its rugged and raw challenges and watched over by an all-encompassing God whose whims can affect the outcome of our lives at any time.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild

Penn’s brilliant direction certainly makes a persuasive case for healing in this acknowledgment of a higher power whilst employing the startlingly brilliant cinematography of Frenchman Eric Gautier, and the acoustic score of Michael Brook which is seamlessly supported by some decent original songs from Eddie Vedder.

he use of voiceover casts a dreamy, unnatural light over the journey of McCandless, but at the same time provides some of the most pointed revelations, probing into his psyche and examining the possible impetus powering his radical odyssey into the unknown.


I especially liked the narration of sister Carine (Jena Malone), who objectively relays the deteriorating circumstances back home in the wake of Chris’s strange and sudden absence, the ripple effect creates, and insights into the turbulence that has defined this family beneath its facade of normality, including the overbearing, abusive betrayal of trust by their parents, Walt (William Hurt) and Billie (Marcia Gay Harden), who still cling to each other in hatred, battering one another for answers that will never reveal themselves.

Christopher McCandless

Christopher McCandless

Penn’s screenplay, in adapting Jon Krakauer’s book, helps enrich the narrative with the interesting characters Alex meets on his travels. Especially noteworthy are Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker as former hippies whose relationship has weathered some brutal storms of its own, and Kristen Stewart as a singer and underage, potential love interest for Alex.

Best of all, there’s Hal Holbrook as Ron Franz, a broken down old man whose own ties to the world have faded rather than been severed, and who sees the vestige of a possible surrogate son in Alex, a last remaining hope to carry his name onward beyond his imminent death.

The pair forms an unlikely but immediate bond in their limited time together before Alex sets off with a promise to consider Mr. Franz’s heartbreaking proposal; their last scene is one of the best in the film and possibly the reason why Holbrook was nominated for an Oscar aged 82, the oldest ever to receive such an honour.

Christopher McCandless and his time in the Alaskan wild – 2

The performances are superlative. Emile Hirsch carries the project on his back—he is in approximately 98% of the scenes—and his turn is that of a real actor’s actor, seemingly transforming into rather than portraying his character.

Chris is more frustrating than endearing, and yet he is someone that the viewer grows deep care and concern for through the course of the sprawling 147-minute running time. Hirsch’s physical transformation is equally startling, pulling a Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” and sinking his weight to the point where he looks disturbingly gaunt and malnourished by the end.

Supporting work from Catherine Keener (2005’s “Capote”), as the motherly Jan; Marcia Gay Harden (2007’s “The Invisible”) and William Hurt (2007’s “Mr. Brooks”), as Chris’ flawed and grief-stricken parents; Jena Malone (2004’s “Saved!”), as sister Carine, and Kristen Stewart (2007’s “In the Land of Women”), as the flirtatious Tracy, is powerful.

Finally, longtime veteran character actor Hal Holbrook (2001’s “The Majestic”) is, at the age of 82, a revelation as the sprightly yet forlorn Ron. Holbrook’s every moment onscreen is astonishing, the depth with which he possesses from his eyes and infers through his voice no less than staggering.

Into the wild & Chris Mccandless

Into the wild & Chris Mccandless

The relationship between Ron and Chris is only a small part of “Into the Wild,” time-wise, but it is the one that most sticks with the viewer, emotionally captivating and resonant. If there is any justice, Holbrook will be a deserved Oscar nominee come early next year.


A heartrending slice of Americana both inspiring and foreboding in its view of a world that will exist long after we are all gone, “Into the Wild” would be a first-rate companion piece with both 2004’s Spanish-language “The Motorcycle Diaries” and 2005’s documentary “Grizzly Man.”

Into the wild - Christopher McCandless

Into the wild – Christopher McCandless

The former film and this one happen to share something else—cinematographer Eric Gautier—and he outdoes himself here, taking lavishly sublime advantage of outdoor locations in, among them, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota, California, New Mexico and Arizona. The use of songs, many of them original tunes performed by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, effectively serve their purpose even though a more eclectic soundtrack would have allowed for a more expansive scope.

As writer-director Sean Penn turns the corner and moves down the home stretch, the film becomes disturbingly stark, the viewer unable to do anything but witness the final deterioration of a young man whose untimely fate is inextricably woven with his path toward pure happiness.

He does not find that level of contentment in time, but he does learn the crucial key to it, and that’s more than can be said for some people who live three or four times as long as Chris. “Into the Wild” is a great motion picture—haunting, difficult to take at times, and endlessly compelling.