Movie Review: Into The Wild

Based on Jon Krakauer’s biography of Christopher McCandless, a rich white Atlanta college grad who eschewed all comforts in favor of flinging himself into a great roadtrip adventure, Sean Penn directs this tale of what happens to idealism when reality comes crashing in.

 

Filmed with a speedy sun-drenched dreaminess and a collection of cameos, Into The Wild provokes thought but ultimately leaves the viewer empty. The film never sold me on why I should care about this spoiled brat so arrogant that he enters the Alaskan wilderness totally unprepared, without so much as a proper pair of boots. And he is inexplicably treated as a prophet everywhere he goes, whether sanctimoniously helping two haggard hippies heal their broken relationship, opportunistically inserting himself into the life of an elderly widower, or hopping on his high moral horse and patronizingly refusing the advances of a trailer-park Lolita. All the while, McCandless wags his finger at his monstrous parents for wrecking him for life…and yet he selfishly leaves his little sister in their evil clutches.

 

The protagonist is so painfully self-obsessed that, in a particularly frightening scene, he taunts the brilliant Hal Holbrook into greatly endangering his hips as well as his life by climbing a precarious rockface. In another scene which got me yelling at the screen, he shoots a moose with lunatic faith that not only does he have the skills and facilities to preserve it, but that he as one man could possibly transport and consume such an enormous beast.

 

It comes as no surprise when McCandless’ arrogance brings about his ugly demise, presented with obligatory weight loss by Emile Hirsch (the real McCandless’ corpse supposed weighed less than 70 pounds). But Penn seems enamored with painting his hero as a natural, a visionary, an example of the triumph of curiosity and freedom. It’s not a bad film per se, it’s just a lousy protagonist.

 

Krakauer’s original title, Death Of An Innocent, begs the question, was McCandless truly innocent? Or was he naïve? Or was he, as I believe, a callous, wasteful, bourgeois egomaniac? There’s an undue mythology that people like McCandless have applied to personalities such as Henry David Thoreau as pillars of self-reliance and autonomy within nature: they fail to realize that Thoreau went home every day and had his mother make him lunch. Self-reliance, indeed.

Grade: C

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