Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Short Review: Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)

A beautifully told tale of one man's extraordinary adventure into the unknown. Fueled by a thirst for the raw, immaterial and natural and a total rejection of capitalism and the traditional urban lifestyle, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), fresh from his graduation from Emory University, abandons his wealthy suburban existence and journeys with only a backpack of essentials through the U.S wilderness on an epic quest. Despising his parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) for their hypocritical, fake marriage and an entrapment within their misery, he donates all the money from his student fund to charity, destroys all of his identification and escapes one day without a trace, failing to even tell his sister Carine (Jena Malone) of his plans to travel or provide any word throughout his journey. He first encounters and befriends a hippie couple, Jan and Rainey (Catherine Keener and Brian H. Deirker), before finding work with a harvesting company run by Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn). He battles extreme rapids and kayaks into Mexico, crosses into Los Angeles aboard freight trains, stops at a hippie commune where he forms a friendship with a young girl (Kristen Stewart), befriends an elderly gentleman (Hal Holbrook in a fantastic performance) in Salton City, California, before finally arriving in Alaska, his dream destination. Isolated, lonely and holed up in a bus shelter he discovers his life becomes seriously threatened and he dies from poisoning and starvation.
Featuring extraordinary natural visuals, exceptional editing and astute direction from Sean Penn, this is a very personal film and was a shamefully overlooked masterpiece from 2007. Based on the 1996 non-fiction book by John Krakauer following the adventures of Christopher McCandless, it can be interpreted almost as a documentary. Researched and written posthumously, Chris' body and journal was discovered two weeks after his death by moose hunters. The narrative is non-linear, first jumping back to his college graduation and revealing his estrangement from his parents and his familial values and then cutting together the scenes of him sheltering in the magic bus in Alaska with those of his previous two years of adventure. A series of chapters divide the events and Carine provides voice-over commentary about his shock disappearance and the hunt for his whereabouts. In what would be for many actors, a career role, this is a staggering performance from the still young Emile Hirsch. Completely living this role and pushing his body through serious adversity, many of his emotions embody a passion and dedication beyond the craft of acting. He should have received an Oscar nomination. The score featuring lyrics and vocals from Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder also resonates strongly. Into the Wild is a powerful and inspiring tale and one of my most memorable recent film experiences.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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