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I've never posted a comment regarding a movie but feel compelled to
after attending a screening of Into The Wild at the Toronto Film
Festival last night. I won't speak to story here as it's covered in the
This is a movie of real beauty. It made me cry. I felt moved in a way that happens very rarely. It was an inspiration.
The feelings it evoked were all based on the power of the acting and the writing. The words were real and human. The relationships seemed real and human. This may not seem like a great feat - but I consider it a true rarity. It didn't feel calculated and artificial, like so many movies (read: Crash - but I'm not here to bash that...). It was very organic, natural and (I can't say it enough) just beautiful. Cripes, it's making me sound like a hippie, for heaven's sake. This for me was Penn's best work since Indian Runner.
What it reminded me of...
- Terence Malik - Herzog? - in a strange way Cassavettes? - Hal Ashby (more Coming Home than Harold & Maude...) - even a bit of Ken Loach
- Ruby in Paradise - Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Five Easy Pieces - Easy Rider
... but when I list those it's not because of plot similarities (though there are some) or style (although I think you can definitely see the influence of some great films) - it's again because of the heart of it. I heard a few people at the screening comment that the film was "too long" but I don't agree. I think exploring a journey of this magnitude required visiting all of the people he touched and taking the time to see the land.
Hal Holbrook was just perfect, as was the cast as a whole, and I think Emile Hirsch is really going places - he was fantastic and he owned the role. Eddie Vedder's music worked perfectly as well - not distracting or quirky - just a part of the whole.
The film received a standing ovation and quite a few tears were shed. Magic.
Sean Penn's new movie Into the Wild arrives on the wave of a
well-regarded novel about a college graduate who decides that the anger
and violence in civilized society is too much to handle and commences a
journey through nature in order to truly live life as it was meant to
be. This film is a wonderful glimpse into the life of a kid, wise
beyond his years, and the bonds that he creates with people along the
way. A victim of excess in wealth and a shortage of love, Christopher
McCandless hid inside his mind behind knowledge and philosophy,
building up his intellectual strength, as well as the physical, in
order to complete his trek, ultimately leading him to Alaska. Penn
never falls into the trap of showing too much heartbreak on the side of
McCandless's parents, because he doesn't want the audience to
second-guess the decision he made. There is no debate to be had here,
our protagonist has no alternative but to get out and live off the
land. Only being completely self-sufficient can he grasp a meaning for
his life and one day perhaps go back with that knowledge fully learned.
Emile Hirsch is absolutely brilliant with his good-natured attitude and affable charm. His character believes that human contact is not necessary for happiness and never seeks out relationships. However, his character is so likable that they find him and latch on, not to change his mind, but to experience his level of being and hopefully learn something from him and help enlarge his vocabulary on life. The people he meets help him to fully grasp the decision of life in the wild and be able to survive it. Never coming off condescendingly to those he crosses paths with, Hirsch always holds a smile on his face. One scene, where he meets up with a couple of people from Europe, proves how contagious a clear outlook on life without the troubles of societal restraints can be. These three kids have a blast, if only for a few minuteswith Hirsch being chased by the police for rafting with no licenseand it makes one wonder if maybe we all should take a journey into nature and feel the freedom and full warmth of heart that a lack of stress to succeed in the business world can give.
All the supporting players are magnificent at helping show the side to McCandless that Penn needs on display to succeed. Hal Holbrook, Brian Dierker, and Catherine Keener are by far the best of these side characters with Vince Vaughn and Kirsten Stewart adding some charm too. Dierker, Keener, and Stewart play hippie, flower-child type roles and allow Hirsch to show off how modest and unselfish he is. This is the family he deserved to have from birth and he is the son they wished their lives had earned them. At their best, all four together give some of the most emotionally charged moments in the film. Holbrook, on-the-other-hand, helps give insight into the philosophy that Hirsch needs to live with in order to survive the loneliness, looking him in the face, to come in Alaska. It is truly fascinating to see how every person adds something to his overall experience and to the tools he needs.
Hirsch deserves a lot of credit because he truly outshines the film itself with his dedication and sacrifice to the role. The length of time needed to allow him the ability to lose the weight necessary for a main plot point in the movie is crazy. If the time wasn't that long and Hirsch did it all rapidly, I'm even more impressed. With all that, there are many instances free of dialogue that he needs to carry with body language and actions alone. True, much of this is enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack from Eddie Vedder, but evenso it is a remarkable performance. Kudos to Sean Penn for a gorgeous filming job also. He captures the countryside with grace, while infusing many moments of visual style by slow-motioning glimpses, knowing when to show the family left behind, utilizing informative and essential voice-over, and even breaking the fourth wall. When Hirsch first looks into the camera, at the audience, it does not seem unnatural in the slightest, but instead an amazing link for the viewers to take a look into his soul like those that crossed his path have. McCandless is so pure that it almost feels like glimpsing the calm protectiveness of God.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the best movies I've ever seen. Beautiful, deep, true,
adventurous, sad, occasionally funny, real, at times very touching.
Based on a real-life novel, it is written and directed by Sean Penn. I
have always loved the movie work of Sean Penn. Congratulations and
thank you to Mr. Penn on giving me a few hours of though-provoking
delight. Can you say Oscar? This movie says it loud and clear!
The story; Christopher McCandless, just graduated from college in the early 1990s, goes off on an adventure. He is smitten with books he readsThoreau, London, Byron. He wants no money, so he gives his to needy causes or burns it. Chris is cocky, driven, industrious.
He is traumatized by his parents' bad marriage. He tries to work through his anguish. He seems determined to destroy himself just to prove that he has different values than his parents. He is inconsiderate of his family and keeps them worried about his whereabouts and safety, as if a single reassuring phone call would ruin his rebellion. He fancies himself a philosopher, but acts the petulant child. It is a great credit to the film that we see these character flaws in our hero.
Off on the road, he makes a number of foolish choices and suffers from some of them. Other foolish choices, such as daring to kayak a rapid river, bring him joy. He meets a lot of people and almost all are kind to him. His interactions with people are intense, the kind you have when you are planning to run off and disappear while you are still a mysterious entity. He avoids getting too close to anyone.
The movie is gorgeous. Mountains, plains, sky, rivers, animals. The acting is fantastic, totally believable. The actors are incredible and perfectly cast Catherine Keener as an aging hippie vagabond, Vince Vaughn as a wacky farmer growing who knows what, William Hurt as Chris' potbellied suburbanite dad, Marcia Gay Harden as the type of mom who breeds children who wants to run off to the wilderness to escape from her. Emile Hirsch plays Chris, and does a great job of it. When an actual photo of the real Chris McCandless comes on screen, we see that Hirsch resembles him. Original songs by Eddie Vedder give the right feel that of a well-to-do young white man heading out on a chosen adventure, getting gritty by choice. His goal is to get to Alaska, but on the way there, he hits many other states and Mexico, too.
Chris is a clueless kid from the warm South. He plans to go to Alaska, yet only arrives with any needed equipment because kind folks force it upon him a machete, warm clothes, rubber boots. He's highly educated and gets good grades, yet, early on his trip, ignores a big sign that warns of flash floods. That prepares us that we are going to wince many times at his low level of common sense, while at the same time reveling in his physical strength and willingness to press on.
At one point, Chris passes through Los Angeles. He is dirty, hungry, tired, and goes to a downtown mission shelter. The other men there are also dirty, hungry, and tired, but not of their own choosing. It is not their adventure, it is their life. He realizes fast that he does not want to feel categorized with men who are in dire straits due to misfortune and not due to following their own adventure.
The movie shows Chris as an honorable young man. I do not want to give away any of the plot, so I'll just say the young man has principles and so does the movie.
A few parts of the movie confused me. After Chris's college graduation, he meets h is parents at a restaurant. He brings with him a lovely young woman, obviously his date. Weirdly, it turns out that she is his sister!
There is more confusion when Chris picks up work on a farm run by Wayne, the Vince Vaughn character. What are they growing or doing? What's up?
There is an unintentionally funny scene where an old man tells Chris that he does not have time for adventures because he is too busy with leather. I thought the old guy was confessing being into whips and chaps. But no, he has a workshop where he tools leather.
There were a couple spots where the editing distracted from the movie. I saw a preview; maybe it was a rough cut. There's a scene on the farm where a triple screen is used like a cheesy commercial.
Another scene, where Chris is eating an apple, is a series of jump cuts, which I really liked. It seemed an homage to French auteur filmmakers. But it ends with Chris mugging at the camera. With it, Sean Penn breaks the believability and acknowledges that yes, this is just us making a movie.
There is another part where Chris is in a car with the older man who is dropping him off. As they pull up, there is an inexplicable cutaway shot of what looks to be the head of a cannon.
Much of the movie is like a travel montage or music video involving mountains and sky. The scenes are so beautiful.
I know people that have elements of Chris in them. And I think I've met all the characters he runs into out on the road.
I read the book in 1996. Like others, it moved me profoundly. I created
a series of prints of my interpretation of Chris. I haven't read the
This film transported me right back to the spirit that Krakauer brought to life in the book. I spent a few years traveling alone from 1994-1996. This film reminded my why I left and why I returned. Ten years later, all grown up with all the crap, I'm haunted again by Chris. What a well done job.
Thank you Sean & John. You did it right.
By the way, try to catch Holly Figueroa's song "Dream in Red" inspired by Into The Wild.
The sensitivity with which Krakauer captured the essence of McCandless and his adventure is extended aptly to the movie format by Sean Penn. Even if one might not be able to appreciate the purpose for Alex's journey, I don't think anyone would be able to deny that Into the Wild is a sensitive and poignant cinematic experience. There are scenes in this movie that one will never be able to forget, particularly the ending sequence. This movie will easily pull its audience into a philosophical debate for the truth about who was right and wrong isn't easy to distinguish. Sean Penn certainly doesn't try to answer those questions, questions that McCandless' life left for his family and the rest of us. Penn does well to tread a delicate objective but not indifferent line. Certainly the best movie of this year and one of the best ever made. The story, the story itself is great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Christopher McCandless lived a silly life and died a silly death. Here
was a guy who gave his savings to Oxfam, left home without uttering a
word to his family and who thought salvation lay in the wilderness. Too
bad, then, that he ate the wrong type of plant and carked it.
All the time we're told what complete bastards McCandless' parents are. They drove Christopher into the wild. But what was their crime? Apparently they argued some, even lied a little and their children were born out of wedlock. Okay, they're not the best parents in the world, but do they deserve the harsh treatment that their son dishes out no letters, no postcards, no phone calls?
Well, if you're a massive jerk and you're somehow unable to comprehend that human relationships are more complicated than a simple 'they're good' or 'they're bad', then you may be able to build a case for young Christopher, but if you have any depth of feeling in your soul, you may well think that McCandless punished his parents beyond anything that is reasonable. And also remember that he never contacted his beloved sister. She got the silent treatment as well. However, we have a scene where Christopher goes to call her, but instead he gives his quarter to an old man who is running out of change. What a great guy, we're asked to think. See how he lends a helping hand to strangers. But what about his poor sister, the person who loves him most in the world? This apparently is his one feeble attempt to reach out and tell her that he's okay.
But no, Christopher is determined to live alone in the wilderness - to find himself. He wants to escape from a sick society where people treat each other poorly. Hell, his parents even have the nerve to offer to buy him a new car and pay for a Harvard education. Those phonies. Those shallow fakers who give him a home to live in and money to spend. How disgusting they are.
Okay, so fair enough, the parents that we're presented with here are stiff, middle class dweebs who are more interested in appearances than anything of any substance, but what had me shaking my head was the assertion that Christopher's disappearance made them better people. Suddenly they're thoughtful and united and in tune with one another. Yes, that's what every strained marriage needs their children to put them through a couple of years of hell.
But what I find most objectionable is the romanticising of the wilderness. Is this the only way that anyone can find themselves, by opening their arms and standing on the edge of a mountain and by kayaking down a river? Isn't there any other way? Apparently not. We even get a scene where Christopher, briefly stranded in LA, looks into a restaurant populated by smarmy bastards and sees a yuppie version of himself. You see what he'd become if he stayed in the city? Hunting moose and talking to hippies is the only way to become a rounded individual.
But the disaffection with society in this film is incredibly adolescent. In one scene, Christopher and a buddy of his just start impotently shouting 'society!' Yeah, society sucks and the wilderness is great. The wilderness never starved anyone, ate anyone or froze their balls off. In the eyes of every bear and moose is truth and beauty, and on the cold streets of civilisation is a steady flow of lies and deceit.
However, at the end, Christopher maybe finally begins to understand that his quest is full of crap. He writes something along the lines that happiness is meaningless if you don't have someone to share it with. It took you all that time to figure that out? That human connections are what make life bearable? You could have found that out back home, sitting on your couch in your underpants, stuffing Cheetos down your throat.
But of course, it's the journey that matters, isn't it? And what a tedious journey it is. Christopher meets hippies and quirky foreigners (who are good) and men with badges (who are bad). He helps people like a shaggy-haired Littlest Hobo and enjoys the milk of human kindness. Well, he enjoys the milk of human kindness as long as the people are poor. Everyone who has no money in this film is an insightful, kind-hearted, itinerant poet. Plus none of the hippies he meets are smelly, ugly, incoherent bastards who drown in their own drug-fuelled nonsense. No, they're inspiring people, who plaster their vehicles with outdated sentiments like 'freedom', 'peace' and 'love'.
But it's notable that there's a moment when even a bear won't eat Christopher. Supposedly the bear turns his nose up at him because the kid stays calm or perhaps because he's so sick he doesn't smell that good. But I'd like to think that the bear turns his nose up because it's BS he can smell, and lots of it.
However, as we all know from Timothy Treadwell, bears don't mind a bit of BS, but alas the film can't even come close to the genius of Grizzly Man, a film that shows you're no closer to finding reality in the wilderness than you are on the city streets. The problem here is that Penn is celebrating McCandless' folly instead of investigating it. Not for one moment are we asked to consider that this kid is perhaps a bit of an idiot. We're meant to find his journey inspiring and his plight tragic. But instead it's neither of those things. And at the end his death is elevated to grandiose status (it's shot like he's ascending to heaven, that he's communing with god). But in reality his death is what happens when a deluded moron tries to live in the wilderness without a map or enough food.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I live in Alaska and have for over 20 years and I have hiked, fished
and hunted all over this state for most all of it. I lived here when
the events of this movie happened. Christopher McCandless was not a
hero or anything of the sort and to portray him in this way in this
movie and to gloss over the insanely irresponsible actions he took that
led to his completely unnecessary death and only invites other
misguided "wilderness advocates" to do the same.
Just as in the case of the Timothy Treadwell, who died along with his girlfriend due to his own lack of respect and understanding for the Alaskan Brown bears he claimed to have a "relationship" with, and had a movie made about him (Grizzley Man , 2005) McCandless was just another in a long list of "outsiders" who read a few books or even less and feel they have the necessary tools to survive in the bush here.
It serves no one to have this movie completely stylize and glamorize the events that are only someone's sanitized version of what happened. In truth McCandless likely died a horrible and lonely death in a completely unnecessary manner and in a completely irresponsible way. If only the movie were stronger to make this point then the it would have served an important role. Instead it only will likely lead to more misguided outsiders, unprepared and irresponsibly doing the same or worse.
Honestly let me just say this 1st Sean Pean made this story come to life, true life in every moment in the film. This movie has nothing wrong with it, it is perfect in every way shape and form. He did something that brought me to something I never could understand of what either i have to do or what i need to do in my life. If you want a movie from the heart this is it, if you want a movie of love this is it, if you want a movie with real life emotions well this is all of them. Its long but you'll probably want more when you don't want to leave your seat and just live in the moment of they story. So from my heart to yours this movie will speak to you know matter what.
INTO THE WILD definitely works as a film - I had read the book so I certainly knew the tragic story of this young man's life but I was blown away by the performances. In fact, to have this young talent Emile Hirsch working with the old, legendary Hal Holbrook makes the film a must see - in fact, their scene near the end in the truck is one of the best pieces of acting I have ever seen on film - Holbrook is amazing there. He deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination (but probably won't get it). The film is by no means perfect - there are pacing problems but Penn does use the flashbacks incredibly well and the film builds power as it goes along. Hirsch is so real - I remember noticing how talented he was in the indie flick Dangerous Life Of Altar Boys and I also thought he was very good in the so-so Alpha Dog film. But Penn gets a terrific performance out of him as well as Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Wm. Hurt, Kirsten Stewart, jena Malone and everyone else for that matter. I can see how this film might not be for every one, but I was very moved by it and days later - certain images and moments stayed with me. Penn is getting better as a filmmaker with each movie he makes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a parent who's reasonably liberal and open-minded I was nevertheless
repulsed by the incredibly self-serving main character and director
Sean Penn's unsubtle and cloying anti-government/anti-commercialist
bent. McCandless may have been a straight-a student but he didn't learn
a bloody thing in college. The writings of Byron, London, Tolstoy,
Thoreau i.e. are taught as a jumping off point toward
self-determination and adulthood. They are not meant to be literally
emulated as lifestyles.
And the ridiculous conceit of a 24 year old lecturing an elderly man to open up and go live his life underscores the primary issue with this movie, a misanthropic and deluded main character. Acting was decent enough but I could not for a moment get into the story or the performance due to my disconnect. In scene after scene, I was constantly reminded of the agony McCandless put his poor parents and sister through. Sure they made some mistakes in bringing him up but who's perfect in this world? It would have cost him nothing to simply let them know he was still alive and on 'walk-about' or whatever he thought his pointless odyssey signified. Or at least given them the chance to say good-bye.
Ultimately, I found "Into the Wild" irresponsible because McCandless is presented as the rebellious anti-hero rather than a fool who caused his own senseless death and the deepest sorrow of his loved ones. Sean Penn is a talented somehow but choosing the right sorts of role models to present on film is not one of his skills. Oh and I will definitely not be sending my kids to Emory College if this is the sort of minds they produce...
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