Written and directed by Sean Penn
From the book by Jon Krakauer
A raw, inspiring and ultimately tragic true story, sensitively adapted for the screen, beautifully shot and accented with haunting original songs, Into the Wild was the hit of the festival circuit the year of its release.
Pieces of story are puzzled together to focus on Christopher Johnson McCandless, a bright young graduate of a prestigious university, the toast of his parents and adored by his younger sister. Troubled under his pretence of normality, Chris pulls a disappearing act, shucking off the constraints of society and hitting the road in search of the greater meaning of life.
Travelling through beautiful landscapes, placed in front of the viewer like canvases, Emile Hirsch plays livewire Chris thoughtfully and with great energy. A mix of profundity and young man’s egotism, Chris chooses the alias Alexander Supertramp and journeys where the mood takes him. He tests himself against the elements and new experiences, aiming to see and taste all he can. People are incidental to his journey, and although he had a deep impact on many of the characters he met, he was always able to separate himself from them in pursuit of something larger.
Poetically narrated from both the perspective of Chris, the escapee, and his sister Carine (Jena Malone,) representing those he left behind, the film delves into the ways people make sense of life. The two story strands weave together, making piercing observations so startling they seem the most extreme truth and clearest message we’ve ever heard.
Carried along on Chris’s journey, we glory in the outdoors as he does, and an episode stopping off in LA helps us understand him – after the wide open spaces, free from constraint, the city feels like a trap, the fake smiling faces of its willing prisoners reminding him of his need to escape. Alaska becomes his ultimate goal, and when he enters the wilds and makes his final discoveries we are happy for him, and though touched, can almost forget to be concerned.
Into the Wild is a magnificent watch, concentrated without being heavily laid out, an astounding debut from the always introspective Sean Penn. Eddie Veder’s songs perfectly tap into the themes of the story, and the glorious photography of incredible locations transport us the rest of the way. Highly recommended.