I have been putting off watching this movie for years now afraid that it’s one of those indie hipster-pandering flicks. Oh, how wrong I was. Directed by Sean Penn and based on a book written by Jon Krakauer that’s based on the life of Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild is a wanderlust epic firmly rooted in reality. Sometimes a person’s life echoes the time and environment we all live in so well that it becomes larger than life, like a myth or something similar. Well, if you lived through the eighties and nineties that is. Although, I think that things haven’t changed so much for younger generations.
We all know Sean Penn as an accomplished actor but I think he’s also a very talented director. The attention to detail and restraint he showed here made the movie a true classic. When you’re trying to tell a story as complex and paradigmatic as this one, it’s easy to be overly melodramatic or too cheerful. Penn danced on a knife’s edge and successfully jumped all the hurdles that were put before him along the way.
With a run-time of two and a half hours of very engaging, emotional and heart-warming content, Into the Wild is one of those movies that will eat up your entire evening. During all that time, it’s rarely boring. Mostly because the things you’re seeing are prompting you to think about your own life and the life of young Christopher. Granted, it is a bit slow-paced, but with a subject like this, it had to be. Beautifully shot, it showcases the natural beauties of the USA and the enormous vastness of it. With most of us living our lives in cities, we sometimes forget just how much uninhabited space is out there. The reason for that is that it doesn’t mean anything to us in this commercial and capitalist world we inhabit.
The cinematography and scenes where you’re just taking in the landscape like you’re there with our characters were truly mesmerizing. The music was also good, but in my personal opinion a little too much on the nose. However, I can forgive Eddie Vedder for being so emotionally invested, I mean that’s his life and job.
It is the year of our lord Satan 1990 and young Christopher McCandless just graduated with high honors from Emory University. Almost all his life he had followed the path that was laid out for him by his parents but after finishing college he started to feel this need to be alone. To be alone and to travel. So he decides to give up all his earthly possessions and start hitchhiking through America, preparing for his ultimate destination: Alaska.
I first noticed Emile Hirsch in Alpha Dog, another great movie based on true events, and just one year later he shot this film. Just imagine the pressure of this role and the responsibility that he clearly felt. I think that this is his role of a lifetime. His performance was so convincing and engaging, I mean, he was that kid and you could feel it. The supporting cast was also wonderful with a lot of familiar names like William Hurt, Catherine Keener and Vince Vaughn. Again, as I always say it, with movies like this, all the stars align and everything just works. No matter how complex the story is.
I mean, here we have so many layers and themes explored that I could spend days just writing about them. From his childhood, parents, their parents, the system of values of that time, the feeling of hopelessness and extreme bliss in nature to an abandonment of all the values that society proposed. He went through it all, same as we all do, stumbling through this strange thing we call life.
Parents fuck us all up and then wonder what the fuck happened. Christopher tried to disintegrate his system of values and perception of himself. Something mostly implanted and molded by his parents (them by their parents and official, society’s system of values). And something that he found deeply disturbing. His choice for coping with this issue was to completely obliterate his personality, basically being reborn as someone else. Someone who he had control over. Instead of using cocaine like all the normal kids his age, he decided to travel. And travel he did. We all cope in different ways. The important thing about this movie and the message, if there is one, is that you don’t take everything for granted but really think about it. Every person is different and there is no universal “solution” for our existential problems.
Director: Sean Penn
Writers: Sean Penn, Jon Krakauer
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook
Fun Facts: Jim Gallien, the Alaskan who gave Chris the rubber boots in the opening scene, plays himself.