That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Into the Wild

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 9:08 pm—Film

Into the Wild (USA 2007, Adventure/Biography/Drama), Writer/Director: Sean Penn

Based on Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name, Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a young American who gave up all his possessions in search of the truth. Upon graduating from Emory University, Chris donated his savings—$24,000 USD—to Oxfam International and traveled across the United States, with Alaska as his ultimate destination.

This film really touched me, but I wonder how much of that had to do with where I was at emotionally the night I saw it. In retrospect, I think the movie is a bit like Chris’ own journey: it features some moments of real truth and beauty but is sometimes muddled along the way.

When Chris (or Alexander Supertramp, the name he goes by throughout most of the film) is alone in nature—when he’s running with horses, brought to tears at the sight of deer in Alaska, or paddling down the rapids on the Colorado River—the film is inspiring. But at 140 minutes, it goes on longer than it should. And although some of McCandless’ encounters along the way ring sincere, others reminded me of Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven; they’re trying hard to be meaningful and deep, but come across as a little maudlin.

Overall, the story’s structure is handled quite well. The non-linear chronology flows nicely in most parts. And having Chris’ sister, Carine (Jena Malone), provide much of the narration works well because, like the viewer, she’s also trying to understand Chris’ motives. But the family flashbacks are a little corny. I’m thinking in particular of the scene when Chris’ father (William Hurt) beats his wife and refers to himself as god. (Although the scene does set up a beautiful contrast for a later moment in which Hurt casts his tearful eyes to the sky and falls to his knees, himself beaten down now, with loss, grief, regret and, hopefully, remorse.)

As Chris, Hirsch left me wishing writer/director Sean Penn had stepped out from behind the camera to pinch-hit. Hirsch is missing that magical ingredient all truly great actors have: the ability to think and feel as their character, and to convey that through the camera without even speaking a word. For a film that relies on its lead to carry the audience through silent moments of self-revelation, that’s a significant absence.

Chris lives very much in his head. He espouses philosophies and quotes from Tolstoy and Thoreau. “Rather than love, than money, than faith, give me truth.” At the beginning of the film, even in its second third, Chris says it’s a mistake to look to human relationships for happiness. Instead, people should find it all around them, in the rocks, in the trees, in nature. “Find your eternity in each moment.” He certainly makes a good case for the healing power of being alone. You can feel lonelier when you’re with the wrong people than when you’re by yourself.

But after escaping from his biological family to meet a series of substitute parents, Chris’ final revelation is this: “Happiness is only real when shared.” It completely undermines his entire journey, and yours as the viewer if you bought into his previous assertions.

On to Sean Penn… He is one of my absolute favourites. It’s exciting to see one of the greatest actors of all time finding himself as a director (Into the Wild is the fourth feature he’s helmed). But there are some strange choices in the film, including the decision to have Chris stare directly into the camera on more than one occasion. I didn’t understand that at all. Penn creates a world that’s supposed to be utterly real, a world in which the main character tries to shed all artifice and find his true self. And then Hirsch breaks character and mugs for the camera. Maybe it’s a self-reflexive nod to the fact that you’re watching a construct, a story that was made shot by shot and isn’t real at all; maybe it’s meant to ask the viewer to challenge the way they see everything, even this film. But it didn’t work for me; it just took me out of the moment.

Still, I get the feeling that all of this is just Penn continuing to test the waters as a director before he begins creating true masterpieces.

In the final analysis, I recommend venturing Into the Wild. Despite some drawbacks, the film features beautiful cinematography, some strong performances and a fantastic soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, and it will more than likely get you thinking about your own life and where you want it to go.

Leave a Reply

You’re not a robot, right? Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.