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Into The Wild

USA 2007
Directed by
Sean Penn
148 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Into The Wild

Synopsis: The true story of 22 year old Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), who, having just graduated from college, walks out on his family and his suburban life. Taking on the pseudonym Alexander Supertramp he treks across count and hitches his way along America’s highways, his aim being to end up in Alaska, living in total wilderness, fending for himself and being at one with nature.

This beautiful, sad, yet inspiring film shows Sean Penn’s mature directorial skill. The film is based on a book by Jon Krakauer which was in turn based upon journals that Alex/Chris himself left behind in the abandoned bus in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he made his home. Much of Alex’s Thoreau-esque philosophy is espoused in voice-over, much is simply seen in his actions. It all makes for a feeling of authenticity.

The film employs an interesting timeline structure beginning with Alex finding the old bus but then heading back two years prior to get the picture of his earlier family life. After his graduation, Alex’s non-emotional but try-hard parents Walt (William Hurt) and Billie (Marcia Gay Harden) offer to buy him a new car. We get the first definitive dose of Alex’s anti-materialistic philosophy as he declares that he does not want things. Then in a dramatic scene he burns all his ID, sends his college money to OXFAM and heads for the open road, leaving his bewildered family not knowing where he has gone.

Alex’s journeys are then followed, with a simple date upon the screen allowing us to chart his progress. Intermittently the film flashes back to “the present”, his life in the bus, with a foreboding sign telling us how many weeks he has been in the bus. The characters are all captivating First he meets Jan (Catherine Keener) and Rainey (Brian Dierker), a pair of aging hippies travelling in their psychedelic bus. They take the young man warmly to their hearts, especially Jan, whose own son went missing (Dierker was also employed in the film crew as Marine Co-ordinator and taught Hirsch how to kayak through the rapids). Other encounters along the way include Wayne (Vince Vaughn), a friendly Mid-west farmer, Tracy (Kristen Stewart), who he meets in a ragged community of travellers in the Californian desert, and, most poignantly, Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook), an old man who yearns for family and wants to adopt Alex and is the last person to see Alex before he finally heads into the wild.

Hirsch must be commended for his physical endurance and the serenity, charisma and spontaneity he brings to his portrayal of Alex/Christopher, not to mention his amazing weight loss as the story progresses,  Despite all other roles being relatively small they are near flawless although chronically mild-mannered William Hurt is perhaps questionably cast as the father.

In some ways this film is like a conflation of philosophy lecture and nature documentary and Alex talks a great deal about “the truth” – and in a second voice-over narration by his sister Carine (Jena Malone) we hear more about the young man’s philosophy on being at one with nature as the ultimate truth. Nature is a major star in the film with magical cinematography of both landscape and wildlife. The musical score with haunting songs purpose-written by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder is used to great effect to underscore the emotion of the moment.

If at times a little too didactic (or in the case of the last chapter, "The Getting of Wisdom" seemingly ironic) overall the film works in engaging us in the earnest and intense young man's spiritual odyssey.




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