Emile's Wild at Heart
To be honest I had never heard of Christopher McCandless prior to watching "Into the Wild" but something about his story resonates with me. Maybe there is something in his story which resonates with a lot of people because he had the balls to go after his dreams and in doing so stick two fingers up at society as he travelled to Alaska and lived a solitary life style in the wilderness. Sadly things didn't turn out well as his adventure ended in tragedy but that adventure and the impact it had on the lives of his family and those he met on his travels provides the foundations for "Into the Wild". And what a well rounded movie "Into the Wild" is as whilst we have the positives of the adventure side of things, we also have the negatives not only in what happened to Chris but also how his decision to just disappear off of the face of the earth affected his family.
Having graduated from Emory University, Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to follow his dreams and turn his back on society, giving away his money and abandoning his possessions to go on a journey of a life time, heading to Alaska where he plans to live a solitary life in the wilderness. Along the way, Chris meets a variety of characters and whilst they help to shape him into the man he became he also had an impact on their lives.
I really have just one criticism of "Into the Wild" and that is for the first 15 to 30 minutes it's confusing as hell. It starts with Chris finding an abandoned bus in Alaska, having trekked across a river and through the cold wilderness, but then it jumps and it jumps and it jumps. We get episodes which go back to Chris graduating college, we get him on the road travelling, we get a narration from his sister who is dealing with the effects of his disappearance and until you can get to grips with where these various elements lie in the timeline of Chris's life you are confused as to what is going on. Once you do suss where the various flashbacks are in the life of Chris it then becomes engrossing and you understand how all these events we witness moulded the man we see on the abandoned bus but just for that first few chapters you are left dazed by the confusion.
Now that one major criticism is out of the way with I have to say that "Into the Wild" is one of the most rounded movies I have watched in a long time. We get to see and understand everything so we understand why Chris decided to abandon society and his real identity, we get to see how on his journey across America the various people he met helped mould his attitude and we get to see how his apparent falling off of the face of the earth affected his family. But more importantly we get to see both sides of the coin when it came to Chris's life having reached his dream of a solitary life in Alaska. We get to see the beauty of the land, the freedom to do what you like and even prior to that the excitement of the journey. But then we also get the negative, the hardship and the tragedy, a tragedy which even now writing this review draws a huge wave of emotion to rush though my body. It's that balance which makes "Into the Wild" so good so that whilst yes Chris is our hero for doing it his way what happens to him, the ups and downs become a warning for those who feel empowered to do the same.
Now to be honest you don't necessarily associate Sean Penn with directing, and to be honest he's only done a handful of movies but his directing of "Into the Wild" is pretty spot on. Yes the first 30 minutes is confusing as we switch between periods in Chris's life but other than that everything else works. He paces everything perfectly allowing each episode in Chris's adventure to develop nicely some having big impact others just being very normal. And whilst he gets the pacing right he also captures the landscape brilliantly one moment glorious sun lighting up the rust coloured ground of a canyon the next the drained bleakness of a land covered in snow, the almost two tone appearance giving it a washed out feel. It is as much the actual styling which tells the story as the acting does.
Talking of the acting well whilst there are many notable names such as Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn and Kristen Stewart who appear in "Into the Wild" it is a movie which rests firmly on the shoulders of Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless and he delivers a stunning performance. Hirsch brings this character to life allowing us to understand him, what drives him on to reach Alaska and we connect with him because he becomes that part of us which wants to live life differently. And so when things go wrong for Chris they go wrong for us, it makes us cautious yet we still connect and feel for him, especially during those final weeks in Alaska. And it has to be said that watching his body change, the weight he lost is at times shocking, one of the many lasting memories which comes from watching "Into the Wild".
What this all boils down to is that "Into the Wild" is a pretty stunning movie which brings to life the story of Chris McCandless. It's so well rounded that we do get the adventure which is exciting but also the tragedy which is heart breaking and at the same time how what Chris did affected those around him, the people he met on his travels but also his family which he left behind. It's just a shame that for those first few chapters that it is so confusing as otherwise "Into the Wild" would have been a magnificent movie.