Into the Wild
dir. Sean Penn
“If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, the possibility of life is destroyed.” This quote briefly summarizes the world-view of Christopher McCandless, (Emile Hirsch, Valentino’s new face for the Men’s Spring/Summer 2009 collection)– the protagonist in Sean Penn’s film Into the Wild. Released in 2007, the movie is modeled after Jon Krakuers’ non-fiction book with the same title. Wild chronicles the travels of McCandless, who after graduating from college, decides that he is not suited for 1990’s professional life and takes to the road as a hobo-adventurer. As Penn reveals, many different forces underline Mcandless’ choice to reject normal American life; these, include a frustration with materialism, anger at the restrictions parents (William Hut and Marcia Gay Harden) try to place on his life’s course, and a desire, bolstered by McCandless’ love of classic authors like Thoreau and Tolstoy, to find some sort of fundamental truth in human nature.
Wild feels a lot like a 1990’s movie adaptation of “On the Road”- Jack Kerouac’s classic Beat novel. Like Kerouac’s manic character Dean Moriarty, McCandless, under the absurd name of Alex Supertramp, rambles from one part of America to the next, acting only on the whim of his reckless instincts. Yet, McCandless should not be dismissed as a Moriarty imitator; he possesses both a sense of introspection and compassion for others that escapes Kerouac’s primal womanizer.
The most striking aspect of Penn’s film certainly lies in its setting; the camera follows McCandless as he passes through many of the most beautiful parts of America. The viewer is treated to spectacular scenes of the sand-baked, cactus ridden deserts of the country’s Southwest, the thunderous and foaming rapids on the Rio Grande River, and the eerie expanse of Alaska’s back country. Unfortunately, Penn’s skill as a director and screenwriter does not match the brilliance of the natural wonders he chooses as his backdrop. At some points, the dialogue is weakly crafted- this especially comes through in Mcandless’ exchanges with Rob Franz (Hal Holbrook), an elderly widowed man he meets in Arizona. Despite these flaws, Into the Wild remains an interesting picture; Hirsch gives a strong performance that compels the viewer to reflect on issues relating to the tensions between personal liberty and social responsibility.The inclusion of these ideas makes Penn’s sometimes patchy film making worth viewing.