[Screen It]

"INTO THE WILD"
(2007) (Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener) (R)

If you've come from our parental review of this film and wish to return to it, simply click on your browser's BACK button.
Otherwise, use the following link to read our complete Parental Review of this film.

QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Upon graduating from college, a young man drops out of society, and meets various interesting people as he hits the road, preparing himself for an extended stay in the Alaskan wilderness.
PLOT:
It's 1992 and college graduate Christopher McCandless (EMILE HIRSCH) has achieved his life goal of arriving and then living by himself in the Alaskan wilderness. Setting up camp in an abandoned bus, he tries to survive there, all while reflecting on the journey that led to that point.

Two years earlier, he's a graduate of Emory University, adored by his younger teen sister Carine (JENA MALONE). Yet, his idealism clashes with his conservative father, Walt (WILLIAM HURT) whose marriage to Billie (MARCIA GAY HARDEN) is on shaky ground.

Disillusioned with who and what he's supposed to be, Chris simply drops out from society, destroying all forms of identification and adopting the name Alexander Supertramp. He then sets out across the country, taking odd jobs here and there -- such as working for farmer and satellite receiver box bootlegger Wayne (VINCE VAUGHN) -- while meeting an array of interesting people, such as aged hippies Rainey (BRIAN DIERKER) and Jan (CATHERINE KEENER) who briefly and unofficially adopt him.

He later crosses paths with them again, which is when he meets young singer Tracy (KRISTEN STEWART) who takes an instant liking to him. Yet, he has no intent on settling down in one place, meaning after he spends some time with her and then widower Ron Franz (HAL HOLBROOK), he sets off once again, intent on making it to Alaska, and living a life that's solely his.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Sean Penn has found the movie he had to make. "Into the Wild," based on Jon Krakauer's nonfiction bestseller, revisits themes familiar from his previous work as an actor and director-loss, grief, and rebellion. Underlining their intimate, ineluctable connections, the film renders such familiar ideas in grand landscapes and excruciating details, revealing their strangeness for Christopher Johnson McCandless (Emile Hirsh).

The movie offers up several views of Chris, most prominently his own (in journal entries appearing as text on screen) and his sister Carine's (Jena Malone). Where his version begins with his entry into the last place he would live, Alaska ("I now walk into the wild"), hers takes us back to Chris' graduation from Emory University in 1990.

While she sits in the audience with their father Walt (William Hurt) and stepmother Billie (Marcia Gay Harden), Chris mounts the stage to accept his diploma, a ritual that pretty much ends the young man's affiliation what he considers corrupt civilization. His family, smiling contentedly, can't know that soon Chris will leave them all behind and, 113 days after his departure, be found dead of starvation inside a "magic bus" where he finds shelter in Alaska.

He leaves behind as well a record of his anguish and exultations. The movie makes smart use of that record as translated by Krakauer, cutting back and forth in time, embedding stories within one another, and so challenging common notions of subjectivity and identity. Chris begins this process, certainly, when he abandons his belongings and donates his small savings ($25,000) to charity, leaves Virginia (where his parents live), and adopts the name "Alexander Supertramp."

He tells himself he seeks "ultimate freedom," and sets off across the U.S. en route to Alaska, working odd jobs and meeting eccentric or otherwise illuminating characters. On a South Dakota farm, he works for Wayne (Vince Vaughn), at once exhausted and energized by the physical labor, mostly bemused by Wayne's conventionally "outlaw" machismo.

While it's plain that Chris has little in common with Wayne, their mutual appreciation has seeds in Chris' complicated rejection of Walt. An antennae specialist at NASA, Walt and Billie eventually started their own consulting company and grew wealthy. These tidbits of information are offered up alongside telling emotional particulars, as the two children observe their parents in disarray -- they drink and argue, and the control-freaky Walt abuses an acquiescent Billie.

While these scenes suggest a rather reductive "explanation" of what drives Chris out and away, they also look forward to the alternative families Chris encounters and helps to form on the road, most explicitly with "aging hippies" Rainey (Brian Dierker) and Jan (Catherine Keener), and the resigned-to-dolor widower Ron (Hal Holbrook).

The couple especially seems a model of generosity and openness. While Jan mourns the loss of a child, both she and Rainey provide Chris with the sort of support and encouragement he never found from Walt or Billie. When Chris suggests patience in dealing with Jan's grief, Rainey goes so far as to wonder aloud if he might be "Jesus." In another brief moment, my favorite in the film, he leans down toward a seated Jan and tells her he'll sit with her, as long as she wants, rather than join a group for dinner. The action is lovely, the shot exquisite. Ron also sees in the young man a lost opportunity, asking if he can adopt him.

As each relationship is premised on loss and yearning, Chris' distance-by-definition, his perpetual outsider's status, makes him appear extraordinary. Though he doesn't exactly explicate his aspirations, Ron, Jan, and Rainey's faces reflect admiration for his seeming "purity," even as he urges them to find connections in relationships.

An even more radiant reflection might be found in the long and loving gazes cast on Chris by Tracy (Kristen Stewart), an aspiring singer who lives in Slab City, an RV camp in California. Chris appreciates her performances for the camp, even flirts with her briefly, but at last turns back her tender and awkwardly adolescent desire.

In this moment, Chris looks suddenly mature, where he has been so young and preternaturally wise with the adults who see in him what they need. And in this moment, the film makes clear what it is that is so compelling about him-perhaps as a person but surely now, as a mythic figure who went out into the mountains and died-the very fact that Chris makes choices, informed and not, eventually irrevocable.

Because Chris chooses his journey, because he seeks unknown alternatives to the life he has been granted, the film suggests that his adventure, even if not well thought out or particularly attentive to the feelings of others (say, his long-suffering sister Carine) may be worthy. At the same time, "Into the Wild" does something else, questioning not only the depressive and dysfunctional origins of Chris' impulse, but also pondering the cultural investment in adventure and individualism, the search for "self" that can never end.

This is what makes "Into the Wild" Sean Penn's great project (thus far). After the deeply internalized sorrow, longing, and rage examined in "The Indian Runner," "The Crossing Guard," and "The Pledge," "Into the Wild" finds another way to explore identity and damage, and to make them immediate and more abstract.

The movie's frequently stunning compositions (shot by Penn and Eric Gautier) reveal not only Chris' ruminations as he appears framed by windows on his bus, hiking through magnificent forests or kayaking a rambunctious river to Mexico-but also his inability to immerse himself in the wilderness he cherishes and respects. "Into the Wild" reveals the sense of loss that drives Chris. It also shows that it isn't only his. The film rates as a 7 out of 10. (C Fuchs)




Reviewed August 22, 2007 / Posted October 5, 2007


If You're Ready to Find Out Exactly What's in the Movies Your Kids
are Watching, Click the Add to Cart button below and
join the Screen It family for just $7.95/month or $47/year

[Add to Cart]


Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

All Rights Reserved,
©1996-2017 Screen It, Inc.