Into the Wild (2007)
Director: Sean Penn Starring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Brian H. Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Jim Gallien
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 142 Minutes
Tagline: “Your Great Adventure on Alaska”
Hands up who’s ever felt like dropping everything and just disappearing off the face of the Earth to live a totally different life? I’m sure most of us have considered it more than once before realising the impracticality of such a venture. Into the Wild, a true story incidentally, is the tale of a young man who has no such second thoughts. After growing up in a turbulent family in West Virginia, Christopher McCandless (Hirsch) graduates
from college with near straight A’s and then…
Apparently having grown tired of the ‘lies’ of those around him and society in general, Christopher sets off on what he calls his ‘Great Alaskan Adventure’, without so much as a word to his friends or family. He donates the remainder of his substantial savings (intended by his parents to last through university) to charity, destroys all his credit cards and identification, moves out of his apartment, and sets off with no clear plan or objective other than an intention to at some point reach Alaska. He begins his journey in his tatty old Datsun but it isn’t long before he falls foul of a flash flood in Arizona. From here he burns the rest of his dwindling money reserves, and continues his journey on foot, undeterred.
From here he hitchhikes from one place to the next, never staying in one place for long, but not before he gives himself a new name for his rebirth – Alexander Supertramp. During his travels he meets many memorable people with whom he becomes friends including Jan and Rainey (Keener and Dierker), a kind hippy couple, teenager Tracy (Stewart), and lonely retired leather worker Ron (Halbrook) in California, Wayne (Vaughn), a harvester from South Dakota, a loopy Dutch couple in Colorado and many others, and even travels as far as Mexico for a short while. But he is only ever passing through and eventually leaves them all to realise his ambition of reaching Alaska.
To be completely honest, I didn’t really know who Emile Hirsch was prior to this movie’s release, but he really is amazing to watch in this fascinating biopic. It’s rare that someone can consistently hold the screen so well when they spend the entire duration of the film in the centre of it. But even in the silent, barren lands of Alaska, he is riveting, whether hunting through the wilderness for food or merely writing in his journal in the old abandoned bus he makes his home. Regardless of what you think of Christopher’s actions, and motivations fuelling them, you can’t help but be impressed with Emile’s charisma and dedication. Not all the people he meets in the film agree with his actions, but it’s a testament to him that he leaves them with at least some understanding of why he has to take them, and his ultimate realisation only makes his relationships all the more poignant.
The supporting cast are all superb too. Despite their actions earlier in Christopher’s life, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for his parents (Hurt and Harden who do much with their limited screentime). Interspersed between the scenes of his travels, the film details their struggles as they search for him, increasingly desperately, with his sister (Malone), one of his few friends, providing a stirring voiceover. However, it’s the friends he makes on the road that you’ll warm to the most. You’ll probably find yourself willing him to stay with them, with Jan and Rainey, Wayne and Ron (Holbrook’s superb performance is a real heart-warmer) being particularly memorable. In fact, such is the splendour of the performances here, credit is seldom given to Sean Penn for his superb direction, with some truly jaw-dropping cinematography, and the film is accompanied by an outstanding soundtrack written especially for the film by Pearl Jam frontman, Eddie Vedder.
Like a lot of viewers, you may not sympathise with Christopher too much. He did after all grow up as a priveleged child. You may even consider him to be a selfish, spoilt brat with no regard for those who care about him, at least initially. On the other hand, you may find yourself envious, wishing you had the courage to undertake such a liberating venture to obtain ‘ultimate freedom’. Regardless of which way you lean, Into the Wild is an immersive film that you can just sit back and watch in wonder. It’s one of those films that will be on your mind for days, even weeks afterwards, and that’s something that many films strive for but very few achieve.
RKS Score: 9/10