Into the Wild (9/10)

 
For as long as man will walk this good green Earth, he will always long to throw off the fetters of civilized life and rough it in the great outdoors, I mean really rough it. But he never will. He has family, friends, a job, responsibilites. One man, Chris McCandless, did, though, and his story, recounted in this movie, is nothing short of inspirational. The film is based on the non-fiction book of the same title, and it has taken more than ten years since Sean Penn, the now writer and director, saw it on a bookshelf in a bookstore, for it to reach the big screen. Now that it has, it’s glorious.The movie opens with Chris reaching his destination of the Alaskan wilderness, where he finds a decrepit old bus that he nicknames “The Magic Bus.” Deciding to hole up in it for a few months, the rest of the movie focuses on the journey that led him to his present destination, beginning with his college graduation ceremony, where we learn that not long after, he sliced and diced up all his bills and money and hiked up his pack on his back to set off on a journey to find himself, or something like that, not even bothering to tell his parents where he went, and they’ll spend then the next two hours of the movie wondering and worrying.

There’s little background to Chris, and that’s one of the biggest flaws of the film. Because we don’t really know him before he sets off willy-nilly into the wilderness, it’s difficult to imagine why, or more importantly, how. The movie simply depicts Chris burning his bridges and being just fine. He can get a job, get transportation, get food, all with nary a worry to ID or any of the practicalities of normal life. If roughing it were this easy we would all do it. On top of this, he can white-water raft down dangerous rapids with no experience whatsoever and come out completely unscathed. All these things put together put a little bit of a damper on the experience of watching the film, but after the first twenty minutes or so of the film, you quickly forget about all that, simply because of how entrancing the journey is.

Emile Hirsch plays Chris, and he’s perfect for the job. He wonderfully conveys the wide-eyed wonder and fiery determined spirit of this sojourner, and for the most part, you forget that he’s essentially a kid rebelling against his parents, and though some viewers may find this aspect of Chris’s journey to be offputting, it’s a fascinating, engaging, and enormously appealing character study. Sometimes the people he meets may seem like they’re a little bit too eager to fawn all over him, but with the charisma that Hirsch carries it actually ends up being fairly believable, also in part due to the fact that the people he meets are all played by such amazing actors.

Vince Vaughn is thankfully toned down as a wheat thresher who hires Chris, Catherine Keener is wonderfully sweet as a hippie woman who is having troubles with her husband and develops a close and personal motherly bond with Hirsch, and most amazingly, Hal Holbrook, who outclasses everybody else in the picture as an old man whom Chris inspires. William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden play Chris’s overbearing parents, and watching the motions of grief played over their faces as the film progresses is nothing if not heartbreaking.

The cinematography is absolutely stunning, capturing the almost unbelievable beauty of the North American landscape. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s still such beauty left in our modern industrialized world, but Penn’s camera-work evokes the wonder effortlessly without ever feeling fake or forced. The hot air blowing over a desert, the frigid landscape of Alaska, or the cool gusts of wind wrapping themselves around Chris as he stands on a mountaintop are all exquisite images of the untouched beauty of nature.

“Into the Wild,” is a story of the triumph of the human spirit, the story of how one man decided he was going to go out and rough it and actually lived through it all to the end, never once giving up or backing down. It’s also a story of one man’s search for meaning, one that entrances with its personal beauty. Yes, it’s flawed, but it’s such a heartrendingly beautiful portrayal that ever flaw is forgiven with ease. There’s little chance you’ll find a more inviting or inspirational film this year, and little doubt that Sean Penn was the perfect man to bring this story to the big screen. Gorgeous.

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2 Responses to “Into the Wild (9/10)”

  1. very good blog!!!

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  2. McCandless’s story is tragic, but then so many people have benefited from hearing it… a couple of years of hitchhiking and camping made a story that now challenges thousands (millions?) of people to reexamine their lives

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