Movie Project #8: Into the Wild [2007]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Into the Wild [2007]

Into the Wild [2007]
Director: Sean Penn
Genre: Adventure/Biography/Drama
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Keener
Runtime: 148 minutes

I was skeptical upon my viewing of Into the Wild. I have friends who swear by this movie, ranking it among their favorites, but I was worried that it would be too similar to Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, a similarly true tale that did very little for me. While both films have similar concepts — a man giving up everything to live in the wild — I felt that I could empathize more with Into the Wild’s lead character, much to the credit of director Sean Penn’s adaptation.

Emile Hirsch stars as Christopher McCandless, a middle-class kid who promptly gives up everything after graduating from college. He donates his savings (approx. $24,000) to Oxfam, ditches his car near a beach, and proceeds to live as a vagabond, happily drifting across the continental United States. His reason? He doesn’t agree with society, and the feeling of being trapped by its expectations. His ultimate goal is to live alone in the Alaskan wilderness.

This is an admirable notion, to be sure, but his lack of care and respect for his family is appalling. He doesn’t like his parents (Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt), a stuck-up couple that are abusive to each other, but his little sister (Jena Malone) adores him. He shuns all of them, opting to go on his own personal journey.

Into the Wild [2007]

Christopher’s selfishness is disturbing, but it’s hard to stay upset at him thanks to Hirsch’s fantastic performance. He is charming, intelligent and has a strong set of morals when dealing with stranger (i.e. passing up on the chance to fornicate with a 16-year-old Kristen Stewart).

On the road, Christopher dubs himself Alexander Supertramp, and he meets a wide variety of characters, all memorable in their own way. There’s an old hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian H. Dierker) that he develops a strong connection with. In South Dakota, Alexander gets a job with a harvesting company owned by Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn). In California, he meets an old retired veteran (Hal Holbrook, in an amazing performance) who begins to feel as if “Supertramp” is his own grandson. In different ways, Christopher makes an impact on all of their lives, then quickly goes off on his own, seemingly never to be seen again.

Into the Wild [2007]

The film is presented in nonlinear fashion, showing us glimpses of Christopher alone in Alaska, then showing us segments from his road trip leading up to that point. This connection is masterfully created by Sean Penn, who also wrote the screenplay. The cinematography is simply stunning, beautifully showcasing the glorious splendor that can be found in a country as large as the United States, even in places that might not be expected (i.e. South Dakota).

Special mention must be made of the movie’s soundtrack, performed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. I am not a big Pearl Jam guy, but damn if this score doesn’t hit all the right spots. A perfect fit for the vast, expansive nature of the movie’s central theme.

Perhaps Into the Wild runs a little long, and yes, the main character is decidedly selfish, but this film is emotionally stirring in ways that I was not expecting. I felt a connection to this young man and his idealistic beliefs. He had a great message (and could have redeemed himself), it’s just a shame that he took it to such an extreme.