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
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
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
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
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photo: © Paramount. All rights reserved.
The pretention is enough to turn you into a
Director: Sean Penn
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Hal
Holbrook, Bart the Bear
Making-of documentary, additional
Picture: Very Good
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
DVD RELEASE DATE
March 4, 2008