When Into the Wild was released back in September of 2007, I was really excited about it. However, for whatever reason, my wife wasn’t as thrilled. So, we ended up putting it off until recently. Finally, with our options at the video store dwindling, we decided to rent Into the Wild. In the end, I’m not sure what to think about it.
The story focuses on a young college graduate, Chris McCandless, who eschews modern society in favor of his alter ego, “Alexander Supertramp.” McCandless tells his parents that he may be attending Harvard Law while they dine together in post-graduation celebration. This will be the last time that they see him, as McCandless wanders west in search of himself.
Through his travels, McCandless comes into contact with various people: a hippy couple, a plains states grain farmer, a young girl who falls in love with him, and an old man who has retired and works leather in his garage shop. Each of these encounters impacts those involved in differing ways. As he moves about the U.S., McCandless becomes fixated on Alaska. After hitchhiking there he spends weeks in solitude in the wilderness.
In terms of performances, everyone holds their own, but it is Hal Holbrook who steals the show here. His portrayal of Ron Franz, an old man who befriends McCandless, is heartbreaking and wonderful. Good to see Hal back on the scene.
Sean Penn directs and does a fine job weaving various elements together: cinematography, score, and original music by Eddie Vedder. No complaints here, really. It is effective, efficient direction. The story is taut and spins along at a great pace.
I love the end of Into the Wild. The first two hours, however, are a bit painful to watch. In abandoning his former life, McCandless punishes his parents and sister, and probably his old friends, though we never hear from them. This punishment and rebellion phase of the film makes it difficult to identify with McCandless. Instead of empathizing with him, I started to turn against him — I wanted to shake him and tell him to stop whining.
Two hours of whining should get on anyone’s nerves.
In the end, however, McCandless comes around and discovers that humans aren’t meant for solitude. True happiness comes from relationships. By this time, however, it is too late and the damage is done.
The presentation of the McCandless family does nothing to assist in making us feel that Chris is whining. The film presents Mr. and Mrs. McCandless in a harsh light, highlighting their mistakes whilst they glorify their suburban consumerism and “success”. Meanwhile, his sister, played well-enough by Jena Malone, is an angelic victim without fault or substance, unfortunately. There is nothing deep or interesting going on here, though that will change in the last 15 minutes of the film.
Into the Wild should be commended for where it takes our main character. The journey to that end, however, may easily become the focus of attention for many viewers. I would be particularly interested to learn what teenagers and college-aged kids think about Chris McCandless and what he says and does. Will they miss the somewhat enigmatic (yet obvious…right?) end? Difficult to tell.