Reviews

Into The Wild

4

Christopher McCandless came from an affluent middle-class family (his father was an aerospace engineer for NASA), and when he graduated from Emory University in 1990 his parents had every expectation he would make something of himself. But Chris declined their gift of a new car, donated the remaining $24,000 from his college fund to Oxfam, and disappeared from their lives. He began hiking across the United States, stopping for a spell to work as a labourer in South Dakota, then kayaking down the Grand Canyon and into the Gulf of California. He called himself ‘Alexander Supertramp’ and took pride in travelling light, surviving on minimal provisions and his own prowess at foraging. All the while he dreamed of escaping civilisation to live off the land in Alaska. For more than 100 days he did just that. Then he made a grievous error…

Sean Penn’s three previous efforts as writer-director (The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard, The Pledge) have been intense, occasionally overcooked psycho-dramas, palpably sincere but a bit indigestible. His fourth is both more ambitious and more straightforward. Into The Wild scarcely has a plot worthy of the name; based on Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction bestseller, it’s a documentary-like account of a young man’s voyage of self-discovery. Penn begins and ends the movie with the abandoned “magic bus” that was Christopher’s shelter in the wilderness, but flashbacks and testimony drawn from his own journals and his sister’s reminiscences lay out the two-year trek to this pivotal time and place. It’s a chronicle of the road that evokes a whole range of associations, from Kerouac and Woody Guthrie to Easy Rider. For his part, the heaviest item in Christopher’s backpack was his library: Jack London, Tolstoy and Thoreau were his guides.

Penn obviously admires this young drop-out’s idealism and intrepid sense of adventure. Cinematographer Eric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries) captures ravishing, rhapsodic images of the great outdoors, while several original songs by Eddie Vedder supply a romantic uplift. If anything, it’s too energised – occasionally you want Penn just to stop and look, take in the scenery for a spell. A handful of sharply delineated encounters offer more nuanced perspectives on McCandless’ quest. Catherine Keener is especially fine as an aging hippie saddened to see something of her own estranged son in him (Christopher has “issues”). And veteran character actor Hal Holbrook works wonders as an octogenarian widower who establishes an unexpectedly deep bond with the boy before he sets off on the last leg of his expedition.

Save for a few indulgently Method-ical improvs, Hirsch also impresses, communicating the infectious exhilaration that drives Christopher ever further into the wide-open spaces and away from family and friends. If it’s a cautionary tale in the end, this timely movie is also a real eye-opener.

 

Verdict:

In his fourth and best film to date, Sean Penn has made an eco-road movie that refreshes and invigorates. Exquisitely shot, robustly acted and deeply felt, it's a potent ode to wanderlust and human pluck.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • thegoddamthing

      Oct 10th 2009, 23:58

      5

      Once in a while a film comes along and silently delivers a sucker punch to your senses that leaves you reeling, with your once closed mind open wide and your once moribund imagination alive with vivid thought. Donnie Darko and The Shawshank Redemption are considered the standard bearers for these films, silently moving up through people’s consciousness until they explode onto the world’s stage in an orgy of acclaim and celebration. Into The Wild can easily be added to this list, based on the book by John Krakauer and the passion project of Sean Penn, who both wrote and directed the true story of wanderer Christopher McCandless who left a turbulent home life, the promise of a good education and the material values of corporate America and adopting the name “Alexander Supertramp” then went to take a “voyage of self discovery” only to discover that one of the things he was running away from, was the thing he needed the most. Effortless and breathtaking imagery provide sublime backdrops and under Penn’s direction the films young star Emile Hirsch is in good hands as Penn uses his wealth of film industry knowledge to truly get a world class performance from Hirsch, all under the sombre soundtrack off Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, a soundtrack in my opinion that brings another dimension to the film, the likes of which we have never seen before. During Alexander / Chris’s wanderings he happens across a plethora of different individuals each played superbly by among others Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook and the always excellent Katherine Keener, who all character driven performances that again add another extra depth to the storytelling within this great film. How does one find the words to sum up a film that has left him utterly speechless? I think this quote should sum it up. "Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, 'cause "the West is the best." And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild." - Alexander Supertramp May 1992. A memorable quote from the film and very true as we watch, we truly are with Chris / Alexander and we have truly gone Into The Wild. A visionary masterpiece as close to perfection as modern storytelling can be, a superb achievement and an achievement that you will relive time and time again.

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    • HamishRowe

      Dec 2nd 2009, 22:54

      5

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    • luke22

      Feb 23rd 2010, 10:38

      5

      The best film of 2007, I will watch this movie for the rest of my life. AMAZING! Luke

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    • FBEXanthopoul

      Jan 21st 2012, 16:48

      4

      www.unsungfilms.com, by Theo Alexander If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed’. An adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s acclaimed non-fiction novel of the same name, the film opens in April of 1992, when Christopher McCandless arrives in the barren wilderness of an Alaskan national park. As he struggles through the harshness and extreme conditions of the land, with nothing but an old parka and a backpack, he stumbles across an old, abandoned bus which he occupies. Surrounded by nature, game, and enough reading material to last a lifetime, he sets up and prepares himself to start his new life in the great wilderness of North America. The film goes back two years, where we see Christopher (portrayed by Emile Hirsch) gradating from university, applauded by a large crowd made up of professors, classmates and parents. Looking through the proud faces and encouraging smiles, a kind of hungry loneliness is visible in the eyes of the young man. In some way, his very presence puts a weirdly sarcastic and absurd light upon the entire ceremony. At this graduation, the viewer is exposed to the inner rebellion that carries the film from that moment onwards. A rebellion that is hidden somewhere in everybody, and becomes visible in different ways, if it becomes visible at all. Who knows when Christopher McCandless was hit with the realization that something wasn’t right, but it happened, and he had the courage to act on it. His world became somewhat meaningless, his sense of purpose and ambition became false. In the film, human rebellion is shown through Christopher, who leaves everything behind, snapping his credit cards and burning his money before embarking on a great journey around the continent. Director, Sean Penn gives the viewer an inspirational work of intelligence and insight. As Christopher leaves his home, his family and his former ambitions, he begins on a two-year trip around his homeland before reaching his final destination, Alaska. His travels document a dramatic story delving into the core of the human being and the spirit of the land. He moves through the country with an unseen freedom, and presenting new experiences and sense of truth, untouched by the often devastating blanket of society. His travels throw the viewer into a world of beauty, infused with a unique philosophy. While Into the Wild focuses on Christopher’s journey around the States, the story is intertwined with his final experience in Alaska, where the film eventually comes to its end. Cutting back and forth, from the two years he spends on the road, to his time spent alone in complete isolation, the viewer experiences McCandless’ rise and eventual fall. To begin with, he sees Alaska as a place of complete freedom, where he can experience himself, nature and the simple joy of truth. As the film goes on, Alaska becomes a harsh and ruthless place, where Christopher becomes a prisoner in his loneliness and near-starvation. He concludes that for happiness to be truly felt, it must be shared. With exceptional performances from Emile Hirsch, William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden, and a spellbinding soundtrack by Pearl Jam’s front man Eddie Vedder, Into the Wild has shown to be an outstanding directing debut from Sean Penn, and remains a powerful and influential piece of cinema in the film industry. Theo Alexander at www.unsungfilms.com

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