“Mr. Franz, I think careers are a 20th century invention and I don’t want one.”
Chris McCandless, Into the Wild (2007)
This single line from the movie sums up its entire premise.
Sean Penn’s directorial venture, Into the Wild has an indie classic ring to in. Penn has moulded in to a masterpiece, an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s best-selling Into the Wild. Krakauer told the true story of Chris McCandless, amazingly played by Emile Hirsch, an honors grad from Emory University who walked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992, to find himself outside the confines of estranged family, well-meaning friends and any governing impulse besides his own questing heart. McCandles donated his college fund, $24000 to Oxfam, and cut up his ID cards, before leaving without notice, to experience life, the way he wanted it to be. If you read the book and pegged Chris as a wacko narcissist who died out of arrogance and stupidity, then Penn’s film version is not for you. If, like Penn, you mourn Chris’ tragedy and his judgment errors but also exult in his journey and its spirit of moral inquiry, then this beautiful, wrenching film will take a piece out of you.
I confess that I have been a Sean Penn fan ever since I saw him play Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. There has always been an endearing sincerity and an intelligent deeper meaning to his often ostensible simple work. In the movie, Hirsch and Penn seem to be one with Chris McCandless, almost down to the nerve endings that tingle when McCandless feels what he does.
Hirsch gives an award-caliber performance of astonishing depth and humanity. What helps you enjoy the movie by getting into it so much is the fact that it is shot entirely on location, in more or less the exact same places that McCandless, or Alexander Supertramp, that he called himself, went to. Adding more emotion to the narrative is Carine McCandless (Jena Malone), Chris’s sister, who expresses the feelings the forced her brother to break free, and her own troubles and the trauma they undergo as children, in a repressed, angsty, yet surreally calm voice.
An unconsummated romance with underage Tracy (Kristen Stewart) in Slab City, an RV camp in the California desert, also speaks to his character. Chris’ ache for connection is movingly portrayed in his relationship with widower Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook in his shining hour onscreen). And Penn makes the lack of that connection palpable when Chris heads to Alaska, enduring four months of isolation until his starved body (Hirsch lost forty pounds for the role) is found in an abandoned bus.
Penn’s direction, Hirsch’s portrayal and Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder’s songs and score are what make this movie a ride few will forget.
What hits you hardest is the simplicity with which the book, and now the movie express the materialistic futility of the human existence, and yet reinstates in more ways than one, your belief in the humanity of it all.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/orionoir/2073936704/]