the studio gate

the backlot

the screening room
The Screening Room
into the wild

What drives a young man to abandon everything and everybody in his life to explore the country? Those questions are posed in Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's book. The film is now on DVD in a single and two-disc set. This is a review of the 2-disc set.

Critics praised Sean Penn's film last year. They said it was moving. Spellbinding. And the idea of being young and taking to the countryside is appealing. The film's cast is impressive and of high-caliber. The acting is solid and believable. Sean Penn's writing and direction in this film is nicely done. The film, on some levels, has the right ingredients. It has all the markings of a potentially good movie.

Yet I found myself disliking this movie. I tried sitting through it, only to find myself nodding off occasionally. I'd be awakened by singer Eddie Vedder's ode to Bob Dylan and hippie music. I'd scan backwards during some of the scenes that induced sleep to catch what I missed. It didn't seem like I missed a lot. The numerous shots of Christopher McCandless trekking through the countryside became repetitive. I get it already, he's one with nature and free, man. Cool! Then the cinematography got to me. It's artsy, with lots of zooms and zooming shots. I felt distant from a lot of the action on screen. The cinematography is quite good, but I felt like I was watching a film made in the late-1960s. Maybe that was Penn's point. I guess I never "got" the whole '60s movement in society and in film, so maybe this film wasn't for me. Woodstock I ain't. 

What bothered me the most was the self-centered real life character of Christopher McCandless, played by actor Emile Hirsch. I have to be honest in saying that I didn't like this guy for most of the movie. From the whisper quiet narration of his sister (Jena Malone) and numerous flashbacks to his supposedly rough childhood, we're to gather life was so rough for Christopher that he decided to chuck it all for a life in the wild. First he totally dismisses his parent's offer in getting him a new car to replace his hunk-o-junk Datsun. They were doing this to help him out on his way to Harvard. You know, get him a nice college gift that was safe and reliable on the road. Then we see him donating over 20K of his scholarship money to charity. Then he burns whatever cash he's got leftover. I get it. Money and "things, things, things" aren't everything. That's something that a guy in his early-20s might think. You come to realize, as many hippies did during the 1980s, that money isn't all that bad. Just don't let it run your life and you'll be fine.   

What really got to me was McCandless' disregard for his own family. If it was Penn's intention to make me angry with McCandless, it worked. McCandless basically screws his family and makes them wonder where the hell he is. He causes them extreme worry, despite the fact he's a grown adult and can at least give them a phone call to tell them he's all right. But he doesn't, and that's pretty damned selfish. Yet at the same time, he tells Vince Vaughn (who plays Wayne Westerberg) how crummy people are. Nice. Somehow in this film, other than a really cranky railroad cop who beats McCandless up, everyone who meets him is amazed and touched by him. The loving hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian H. Dierker) adopts him like a son. Vaughn, one of McCandless' temporary friends, loves him. What the hell makes this kid so wonderful to everyone?

Throughout the 2 hour-plus running time, I could barely find much that was redeemable about McCandless' character. What the hell was he angry about? The fact his parents fought? That he was a bastard child? From what is portrayed in Penn's movie, life wasn't that bad for McCandless. Life could've been much worse, or tragic, or difficult. I don't get that at all from Penn's film. To me, McCandless, as portrayed in the film, is a self-centered neo-hippie, protesting causes he's made up in his mind. He'd rather escape to the world outside, rather than fixing the world he's in. He is portrayed as a spoiled and gifted kid who thumbs his nose at the people who love him. Not every family situation is perfect, that's for sure. Despite his parent's woes and mistakes, they seemed to genuinely love him, and they seemed like flawed human beings. Who doesn't have flaws, especially when it comes to parenthood? Indeed, there is some closure to this family matter in the film, but it's much too late. By that time, I've already made up my mind about McCandless.

The best part of the movie, and a movie could've well been made about this, is the short relationship between an old man named Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) and McCandless. The scenes of Franz talking wisdom and life experience into McCandless are heartbreaking and sincere. This is where the movie got hold of me and didn't let go. With Hollywood's fixation on youth, it's refreshing to see a veteran actor give such a good performance. Holbrook is fantastic. Unfortunately, their scenes are short and come in way into the movie's running time. And McCandless just can't shut up and let Franz do the talking. McCandless is still in his own little world. As with most of the characters who try to talk some sense into the young traveler, it seems to go in one ear and out the other.

I'm sure I'm in the minority on my opinion of "Into the Wild." I'm sure it was an art house favorite as being daring and original. It's obvious that Penn loves McCandless and what he did in his life. For what reason, I don't know. Freedom and doing what you want can be good for your life, but hurting the people you love along the way isn't the way to find yourself.
Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photo: © Paramount. All rights reserved.

Quick Glimpse


The pretention is enough to turn you into a yuppie

Director: Sean Penn

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Hal Holbrook, Bart the Bear


Making-of documentary, additional features



Picture: Very Good
Sound: Excellent

Cinematography is excellent, but the long zoom shots take you back to those '60s radical films

Aspect Ratio (2.39:1)

Dolby Digital 5.1

March 4, 2008