Into the Wild (15)

Sep 24, 2008
Cranbrook Film Society

Telling the true story of ill-fated adventurer Christopher McCandless, ‘Into The Wild’ plays like a haunting postcard from the great beyond. Sean Penn adapted the book by Jon Krakauer (reconstructed from McCandless’s own recovered journals) and directed the film which backtracks through the winding highways and side roads that led him into the Alaskan Wilderness. Playing the lead, Emile Hirsh captures all of the arrogance, integrity, naiveté and charm of this complex, troubled young man and his passion for the natural world.

Clouds gather ominously from the opening sequence, when McCandless trudges through snowfields and discovers an abandoned school bus. He makes this his home and the subsequent struggle to find food is drawn out between flashbacks of people he’s encountered along the way. Brief impressions are thrown in too and gradually a picture of deep discontent begins to form, hinting at why McCandless went AWOL in the first place. Meanwhile his bewildered and grieving parents (Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt) are left to ponder.

Fuelled by the writings of Tolstoy, Thoreau and Jack London, McCandless appears to imagine himself a modern-day folk hero, but Penn, in this deeply personal and serious film, avoids imposing any judgements. The portrayal is sympathetic and these sentiments are echoed onscreen by those who give McCandless shelter on his ultimate quest for solitude. These ‘substitute’ parents include Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn and Hal Holbrook (who was rightly Oscar-nominated) delivering poignant performances, each one imparting some lesson in a heartbreaking coming-of-age story where self-awareness comes too late. The narrative relies quite heavily on flashbacks and Penn has a tendency to draw attention to the camera, but the journey remains compelling throughout. McCandless is such a vivid and enigmatic character – a force of nature in himself – that his story grips you until the bitter end.

‘Into the Wild’ was nominated for two Oscars (for Best Supporting Actor and Editing) in 2007/08 and won several prizes world-wide, particularly for Sean Penn’s direction and the music.

Sean Penn | USA | 2007 | 148 minutes | 15