Into the Wild - DVD Review|
Written by David Hillyer
March 22, 2008
Into the Wild, an adaptation of a book by Jon Krakauer, chronicles the brief life of Christopher McCandless. McCandless was a 20 year old college graduate who seemed, by the world’s standards, to be heading for a life many dream about – six figure salary, trophy wife, nice cars. But as with most recent graduates, it was easy to become discontent with life. He was discontent with society, his parents, and living the life that was expected of him. So he threw it all away and headed west to experience life and maybe get some answers to those inner questions that we can never seem to put into words. The movie follows his adventures throughout western United States which ultimately end in the Alaskan wilderness.
Those of you who have read the book or articles about McCandless know that there are very different opinions about his life. In many ways his story is tragic and frustrating – he was running from a dysfunctional family – and through a series of foolish mistakes he ended up dying not far away from a town with people that could have helped him. Many just see him as a misguided kid looking for an adventure in the Alaskan wilderness he was grossly unprepared to visit.
Director Sean Penn takes a romanticized view of McCandless’ life and that is why this movie is attractive to so many. The film portrays him as a heroic figure – living his dreams and fulfilling the desires that most people never get to live out.
The film is masterfully crafted in many of the actual locations where McCandless travelled. The scenery is stunning but they don’t dwell on it so much as to take away from the story.
The cast is a mix of veterans, newcomers, and local characters that bring an incredible amount of life to the movie. McCandless is played by Emile Hirsch who endured all the rigors of 8 month long location shooting and a crash diet in which he lost over 40 lbs. His stoic parents are played by William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden while his sister, who also narrates, is played by Jena Malone. Along the journey we meet a hippie couple (Brian Dieker, Catherine Keener), a farmer (Vince Vaugh), and a loving grandfatherly man (Hal Holbrook). All of them are prefect for the roles. Holbrook deservedly received an Emmy nomination for his work.
Overall the film is simply shot – almost in an “independent film” style. There are a couple sequences that Penn used split screen which doesn’t seem to fit the simple theme of the movie and it actually was distracting for me. Also I found it troubling that this movie was rated R. The reason for the rating is given as “language and some nudity”. There is some offensive language and innuendo in the movie. The nudity is for the most part completely irrelevant to the story – he comes across a couple camping along a river and the woman is topless the entire scene, then later on he and Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) drive through a nudist camp. I get the whole naturalist/being one with nature/hippie vibe but it doesn’t add to the story at all. This could have easily been a PG-13 movie with a much larger audience.
Having recently returned from my own “wilderness experience”, I found this story to be both amazing and tragic. I knew the ultimate outcome to the story before watching the DVD, but I still found myself engrossed in the film and hoping for a profound conclusion. I found my answers and returned to living in community with others – no longer yearning to be alone. I really hoped for a similar profoundly deep experience while watching this movie, but the facts of the story bring everything to a tragic end.
Having talked with many people who resonated with the themes from Into the Wild, there seems to be a common thread. I suspect that secretly most people have a desire to just forget everything, move someplace beautiful and remote – far away from the troubles that we mostly bring on ourselves. Just forget our past, start over, do it right this time, and be happy. The tragedy of Christopher McCandless’ life is he probably found his answers, but never returned. He found that happiness is only real when shared. Tragically, he died alive, but alone.
Paramount chose to release two versions of Into the Wild. Both have the same movie disc, but the “Collector’s Edition” includes a second disc with minimal extras. Unless you are big fan, the “movie-only” edition is the better value.