September 29, 2007

REVIEW: Into The Wild (A)

Background: I read Jon Krakauer's "Into The Wild" for a high school composition class and remember it being a harrowing tale, though I was too immature at the time to really grasp its depth. The book, of course, is based on the tragic true story and diary entries of Christopher Johnson McCandless. Sean Penn (most recently, All the King's Men) had an adaptation in mind for 10 years before making this version starring Emile Hirsch (Lords of Dogtown) and a slew of supporting actors. Penn adapted the book and directed the film, which was shot entirely on location, from Atlanta to Mexico to Alaska. More importantly, McCandless's family (and Krakauer) helped Penn throughout the production of Into The Wild, giving it the utmost credibility in portraying his amazing adventure.

Synopsis: In 1990, after graduating from Emory University, Christopher McCandless wants a new identity, or rather, no identity. He donates his life savings, destroys all of his identification, breaks off all communication with his family, and sets off for parts unknown. Over the course of the next two years, McCandless (calling himself "Alexander Supertramp") walks, hitchhikes, and paddles his way from Northern California to South Dakota to Colorado, Mexico, L.A., and everywhere in between, eventually hoping to make his way to the wilderness of Alaska. (We see his time in Alaska in between flashbacks of his two-year journey.) He works as a wheat combiner, a burger flipper, and a book salesman, but when he earns money he prefers to burn it. He meets hippies, farmers, Germans, and other people from all walks of life. Everywhere he goes, he espouses philosophies on life about happiness, materialism and relationships. In May of 1992, "Alex" finally makes his way to the deep wilderness of Alaska, where he lives in an abandoned city bus and discovers more mental and physical challenges than he ever imagined.

I Loved:
+ That Penn traced McCandless's steps, filming everything on location.
+ The haunting, intensely emotional final minutes.
+ The outstanding supporting performances by Hal Holbrook, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, and Jena Malone.

I Liked:
+ Eddie Vedder's original songs, setting the perfect mood for each scene.
+ The twinkle in Emile Hirsch's eye - he was perfectly cast for this.
+ The cinematography - great location shots, lighting, blurring, etc.

I Disliked:
- Some of the narration from McCandless's sister - I don't remember this being in the book, but correct me if I'm wrong because I read it a long time ago. This is a minor complaint - at times it just seemed too introspective for a movie about him, not her.
- Occasionally, when the camera work became too experimental.

I Hated:
- Nothing.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 48/50= 96% = A

Last Word: With a few exceptions, I usually haven't read the books that are adapted to popular movies, but I think most people would argue that the books are generally better. With Into The Wild, Sean Penn has impressively made a more powerful movie than Jon Krakauer's book. For anyone who has ever considered entertaining the romantic notion of "leaving it all behind," the story of Christopher McCandless should serve as a cautionary tale. I felt the urge to grab Emile Hirsch as he arrived in Alaska and slap some sense into him - what was he thinking? Vince Vaughn laid it out well: "So, what, what are we doing now, out in the wild?" I pity his family situation and I really do admire his adventurous spirit, but McCandless was the ultimate example of the quarter-life crisis taken too far - immature self-absorption, reverence for dead authors, and idealistic philosophies on how life should be. Granted, it was an accident that led to his death, but soon after he arrived in Alaska it was clear he had made an unwise decision. Call me uptight, neurotic, whatever - feed me cliches about "the greater the risk, the greater the reward," but ultimately, I would rather read about his tragedy than experience it. That Sean Penn was able to make me revisit decisions in my own life is a testament to the relational power of this film.

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