Movie Series Review: Into the Wild (Recent Historical Figures)
Director: Sean Penn
Writers: Sean Penn (screenplay), Jon Krakauer (book)
Stars: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt
Synopsis: After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.
Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is a pretty great look at the life of Chris McCandless and the interesting, out-of-the-box thinking that he had along his journey. The way Penn pieces this together is non-linear but extremely effective in telling the Chris McCandless story. The gorgeous, natural visuals stand out as McCandless explores nature all across the United States from West Virginia, to North Dakota to Colorado, Mexico, and California before finally ending up in Alaska. Penn begins the story in Alaska and flashbacks to his journey as well as his upbringing to give you a context about who this character is and what he stood for. Penn also shoots McCandless writing in his journal and uses those shots as transitions to show you his transformation and how he was effected by his circumstances. Along with amazing music and performances, Penn’s direction is pretty great in telling his story.
The story centers around a young man, McCandless, soon after he graduates from college, but he throws away tradition to walk the land and explore nature for what it is. McCandless’ story though isn’t so much about “fighting the man” and being a “hippie”. He was the by-product of having wealthy parents who struggled with that wealth and McCandless only saw money as an object of evil which drove him into a life of isolation and self-reliance. His dream was to go to Alaska and spend some time finding himself in the beauty that is the Alaskan wilderness. The story does a great job of following McCandless and telling us why he acted the way he did and how he got there. In his journey he ran across some really interesting people that I thought was explored well without it being too much. The relationships built there are great, especially with Hal Holbrook’s character. However once he’s in Alaska he finds a bus in which he stays and we get to see him live off the land in which he has some high high’s and some low lows. The biggest problem with the script is that it doesn’t explore some pretty valid criticism’s that led to his end, according to nature enthusiasts and scientists. That being said, the movie is also from McCandless’ perspective so it’s okay that the film doesn’t have it, but it would of been nice.
This is perhaps the best performance of Emile Hirsch’s career and he does a really great job of bringing this character to life while making it really engaging. The dynamics between him and all the characters he comes across is fun and really draws in the nature of who McCandless was. Hal Holbrook was also incredible as one of the people McCandless came across in his adventures. Vince Vaughn was also pretty good in the small role he had. However, William Hurt is the other stand out as Mr. McCandless and while he’s not in the film a ton, you get the sense of the effects he had on Chris’ life.
Michael Brook, Kaki King and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam tag team the score and it’s incredible. The country, natural tones help make the aesthetic feel real and outdoors-y which is what this film needed. It’s a lot of fun and a great listen to outside of the film, especially if you like great acoustic sounds. In fact, Eddie Vedder won an Oscar for Best Original Song for his song “Guaranteed” used in the film. Great stuff here.