Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Into The Wild - great movie, or the Greatest?

In this post from before, I talked about my plans for the summer, what I always wanted to do and what I will do. The desire to leave everything behind, even for a bit, has been almost overwhelming for about two years. A recent relationship that ended crystallized that longing into my plan for a vision quest in the wild. I want to leave absolutely everything behind, cut all the safety cords and become part of nature, if only for a bit. As I step out into the wilderness, I can be calm, and be at peace and part of nature. There's too much noise, literal and figurative in my life right now, and I would absolutely love to mute civilization, even for a week.

That gives you a bit of personal background on what I was feeling when I sat down to watch Sean Penn's
Into The Wild, a biographical film about Christopher McCandless' travels around North America. One of my close friends, who is not much a reader, recommended me the book a while ago, and then the adaptation came out, along with a snazzy soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam fame.

I don't think I was entirely prepared for the feeling of elation and joy that the film brought from me. Rarely has a movie hit me with such an emotional punch. From the visually entertaining editing to the absolutely pitch perfect acting from the entire cast to the poetic finale to the final photograph, a self portrait of McCandless, this movie hit all the right notes with me, down to the smallest detail.

For those of you not familiar with Christopher McCandless, allow me to enlighten you. He was a well-to-do, white male who after graduating from Emory University, gave 24,000 dollars to Oxfam, abandoned his car, burned the money in his wallet, destroyed his IDs, and gave himself the name Alexander Supertramp. He embarked on an almost two year odyssey around North America, from the middle to the West Coast to Mexico and finally to Alaska, where he found an old bus and lived there for ten weeks before dying of starvation.

The film is about the lives he touched, the lives he changed and the lives he hurt on the way. One of the reasons why the film works so well is that Penn almost mythologizes young McCandless, portraying him as an ethereal charming beautiful mystical figure who leaves most people for the better, grateful that they had the chance to see him, even for a moment. Certainly, the film downplays the negative aspects of McCandless, glossing over his temper, his rants and polemics about the evil system, his seething anger at his parents, his naivety. He was idealistic and innocent, but he blazed his own trail, regardless of family or circumstances or consequences.

Into The Wild articulated a lot of things I had been feeling and wanting and longing for and let me draw a lot of parallels between myself and McCandless. I'm sure everybody wants to leave it all behind, but only the few have the huevos to do as he did.

When McCandless finds himself in Alaska, showering in the spring, watching the deer, howling into the wind of the mountains, running through the fields, there's this childlike sense of wonder that he brings, and I can't help but feel the same elation. Never has a movie made me feel so joyous about life or the future. I couldn't sleep last night because I was so excited about my own future, something I hadn't been in a long time.

Call this journalistic bias. Not even for a second while I argue that I love this movie for more reasons than entertaining and rewarding art. This is a movie that articulates my own feelings about the world, and about my life, and it does so in a very artful and beautiful manner.

As aforementioned, the cast is perfect. From almost cameos from Vince Vaughn to supporting roles such as Catherine Keener, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, and more. As the lead, Emile Hirsh expresses so much emotion without being hammy. He immediately sells that childlike wonder of McCandless and do so without any smirk or irony. I never would have thought he'd be so good, but there you go.

Finally, I have to talk about Hal Holbrook, as Ron. Here is a stunning achievement that was grossly overlooked in the Oscar nominations. Ron is an old man whom McCandless meets, and they form a perfect bond. He lost his child and wife in a car accident some forty years before and McCandless left his arguing bitter parents behind. They eat breakfast, hike, talk and enjoy each other's company. Once McCandless is ready to leave, Ron finds it difficult. He drives the young wanderer to the highway and instead of saying goodbye, he asks to adopt McCandless, but it's to no avail - Alex Supertramp belongs only to himself. It's Holbrook's performance that makes this a definite highlight, and that's saying alot considering how good this cast is. The heartbreak and the sorrow is so evident in Holbrook's eyes as he feels the sting of McCandless' tactful refusal. It's a gorgeous scene.

I could talk about this movie forever. But I think I need to re-watch it and try to separate myself from the viewing experience. I need to step away from own life and re-watch the film, in a critical and academic function. But for now,
Into The Wild remains my favourite film of 2007 and that is saying a great deal considering how good 2007 was for films.

Later this week, check back for a look at the DVD features of
Into The Wild, which is one of the few times where I'm going to watch all the special features. That's how much this movie means to me.

1 comment:

patrick said...

McCandless's story is tragic, but then so many people have benefited from hearing it... a couple of years of hitchhiking led to his story challenging thousands (millions?) of people to reexamine their lives