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Into the Wild

Into the Wild

What She said:

She

What would happen if you abandoned society and all its finer things and began to take life one day at a time, dwelling not on the physical but on the greater sense of enlightenment that can be attained?  I guess the first question is, can a greater sense of enlightenment be attained?  Or was Christopher McCandless just full of crap?  Anyway, Into the Wild follows this notion, as a privileged young college graduate, McCandless (played wonderfully by Emile Hirsch) gives away his life savings, drives out to the middle of nowhere, and starts a new life with nothing in his pockets and very little beyond the clothes on his back.  His ultimate goal is to make it up to Alaska, where can live a solitary existance off the land.  But for Christopher, who takes on the new persona of Alexander Supertramp, it’s quite a journey to finally make his way up to Alaska.  The movie takes us through the Southwest and West Coast, as Supertramp/McCandless meets a variety of people who help him out, but ultimately are also helped themselves in a variety of ways by Supertramp/McCandless’ presence. 

Into the Wild is a fairly straightforward character portrait.  Mostly, we get to watch Supertramp/McCandless on his adventures.  It’s an observation of Supertramp/McCandless as he follows his ambitions.  At the same time, it’s also character portrait of each of the individuals he interacts with along the way.  It seems like so many are inspired by his simple approach to life.  Supertramp/McCandless overcomplicates nothing.  In fact, his tragic flaw is his insistence on thinking too simply.  We know that he does eventually make it to Alaska, as the movie is presented through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards.  And that’s where things really fall apart for Supertramp/McCandless.  I’m not going to give away too much here, but you may end up thinking this guy wasn’t quite as wise as many believed.

Hirsch does a fantastic job in the lead role.  In fact, I’ve seen him in other stuff and found him mostly forgettable, but he seems truly immersed in Supertramp/McCandless.  There are many peripheral characters here, including McCandless’ family, played by Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, and Jena Malone.  Along the way, Supertramp/McCandless encounters characters played by Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, and Kristen Stewart.  It’s sort of funny when you encounter Vince Vaughn, because for once he’s not trying to be super sarcastic and funny.  It’s just a very natural performance.  The movie starts off a little slow.  I had to adjust to its slower pace.  And I’m warning you, it’s a bit long, at 2 ½ hours.  But as Supertramp/McCandless’ travels pick up, you’ll become somewhat engrossed in the journey ahead. 

Do yourself a favor, don’t get ahead of yourself with this one.  If you don’t know the spoiler already, don’t start researching it.  I did not realize that this was based on a true story.  Of course, it’s a Hollywood adaptation, and so there are plenty of differences between what is portrayed here and what supposedly really happened.  After the film concludes, then you can start looking into the real Christopher McCandless.  The realities are quite interesting. 

Anyway, Into the Wild is a visual journey and character study that may operate a little too slow for some, but pays good dividends to those who stick with it.

Thumbs up.

What he said:

He

Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) has just graduated college. At the obligatory ceremonial dinner that follows, he informs his family that he intends to take the remainder of his life savings and attend Harvard Law. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. He actually plans to run away and live in the woods. Yes, really. He has been planning this for some time and has told no one of his plans; not even his sister whom he is supposedly close to. His goal is to travel across the country, eventually make it to Alaska, and spend the rest of his life living off the land.

Not only did he want to do all of this, but he wanted to do it the hard way. You see, he donates his life savings to charity. He has this idea that he has to cut ties with society in order to do this. As insane as the idea of abandoning society to live in the woods sounds, he could have at least made it easier on himself had he kept a little money for himself and bought the proper equipment. But that wasn’t what he wanted. His philosophy was that in order to do this, he had to pretty much abandon all the luxuries of modern society; so he pretty much hitchhiked across the country until he found his way to Alaska.

Along the way he encounters many people from all different walks of life. Traveling hippie couple Jan and Rainey (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker) are the first people he counters along his way and the three of them seem to hit it off.  He stays with them for a while and actually ends up meeting them again a few months down the line (he still hadn’t made it to Alaska at this point in his journey).  He reminds Jan of someone and the two of them form a bond because of that. Rainey is happy because Jan is happy. In between staying with them he also encounters a man named Wayne (Vince Vaughn) who owns a harvesting company and also dabbles in an illegal cable business. They also hit it off, but Wayne warns McCandless – who has taken to calling himself “Alexander Supertramp” at this point – to abandon his plans for living in Alaska. One of the other more memorable people he meets is an elderly man named Ron (Hal Holbrook). Hal is retired from the armed forces and spends his time making a few extra dollars by making and selling leather products. He and “Supertramp” seem to have very different philosophies in life, but actually end up becoming close. Like Wayne, Ron tries to talk him out of this adventure. He even offers to let him stay with him.

That’s an overarching theme in this movie. McCandless – who was obsessed with living alone in the woods – seemed to be well-liked by those he encountered. However, that didn’t stop him from doing what he set out to do; which was get as far away from people as possible and live off the land.
This is a well-acted movie from top-to-bottom. Emile Hirsch was very convincing as this eccentric character. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but also a little paranoid and withdrawn; and Hirsch portrayed all the varying aspects of his personality quite well. The bond he forms with the supporting characters felt very real. Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaugh, and Hal Holbrook – I especially enjoyed him – were all great. The bond they formed with “Supertramp” felt very genuine. In what was a bunch of very good performances, I thought Holbrook’s stood out. I was also impressed with Vaughn’s; who took a nice break from his typical role.

The only issue I took with the movie was this romanticized portrayal of what I felt to be a very troubled individual. Some of what “Supertramp” said made sense. There are things that we as a society place too much importance on and who can’t identify with wanting to disappear sometimes? But do abandon everyone you’ve ever known to fulfill your own personal dreams seems extremely selfish to me. I understand he had issues with his family, but disappearing like that has to be hell on them. He supposedly cared about his sister much more than his parents and didn’t even write her to let her know how he was doing. The way he went about this whole survivalist thing – you will see what I mean if you watch the movie – wasn’t the smartest idea in the world either. I’m not sure if that is something I see being worthy of being celebrated and actually felt a little irresponsible in that sense.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on July 23, 2012.