Sunday, March 2, 2008

Into the Wild. Out Tuesday March 4th (Paramount). (********8/10)

Into the Wild is a terrific film. Sean Penn has now directed his first truly excellent movie, and Emile Hirsch has served notice that he is one of Hollywood's next major acting stars. Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, a young college graduate with his whole life ahead of him, who decides to go ahead and live that life. Only, his idea of living that life is much different from his family's idea of living his life. In fact, it's an idea far more in keeping with Henry David Thoreau's idea of living life than it is for most of us. However, whereas Thoreau invented a large portion of his masterpiece, Walden, and did not necessarily spend several years of his life living in the woods at Walden Pond, McCandless really did this. He really did leave after graduating school, gave up all his money and his car and his family, and headed out across America to live in Alaska. Into the Wild is the story of that journey.

And it is a fascinating one. Along the way, Christopher does away with all his identification, changes his name to Alexander Supertramp (no connection to the band), and meets dozens of interesting people. Among them are Catherine Keener, who is terrific, Vince Vaughn, who is reliably great, Kristen Stewart, who is ridiculously hot, and Hal Holbrook, who is magnificent in the role that got him nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Of course, the scenery is beautiful, since this is the story of one man and his desire to be completely alone in the wild. But the dialogue is real and poetic, the actors all deliver first-rate performances, and the message really hits home. That message is not necessarily about the freedom that comes with abandoning all of one's possessions and doing away with conventional society and a "normal" life. In equal measure, it is about the consequences of doing exactly that. The effect that McCandless' disappearance had on his entire family, in particular his sister. And the effect that he has on all those he meets. This bright, engaging, attractive young man makes friends extremely easily, and creates lasting relationships in just a few short days.

However, he is doing it in large part because he is running away from that most lasting Relationship of all, Family. And toward the end of the film, he says to Holbrook "the joy of life doesn't come from human relationships". But that is the fundamental flaw in McCandless' philosophy. HIS joy actually DOES come from human relationships. Of course, by the time he reaches this epiphany, it is too late, and he has set forth on a journey where he discovers himself, and answers all his questions, too late. I don't think it's giving too much away to say he dies at the end - the trailers said as much. But as with most really good movies, it's the journey that makes them worthwhile.

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