A grand adventure
Into the Wild captures the heart of a wandering soul
Freedom is one of those things that hold different meanings for different people. Some see freedom in money; some in power; and others still in their right to practice religion, own a gun or have an abortion if they so choose. Christopher McCandless saw freedom in leaving his material possessions behind—money included—and living off the land, away from society.
Into the Wild is McCandless’ true story, as told first in the novel by Jon Krakauer and now onscreen by Sean Penn. The story ends tragically, but the adventure along the way is well worth taking. Krakauer’s storytelling (and solid reporting job—it couldn’t have been easy to track down McCandless’ acquaintances) and Penn’s screenplay breathe full life into the characters and the story of the last few years of a wandering soul’s life.
After graduating from Emory University in 1990, McCandless (Emile Hirsch) disappears, leaving only the tiniest of traces. His parents (Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt) first learn he’s given his entire law school fund to charity; then they get news that his car has been found in the Arizona desert. He is gone.
The film follows McCandless, who renames himself Alexander Supertramp (Alex for short), on his adventures, and explores the relationships he forms along the way. From a lovingly parental hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker) to a loud South Dakota farmer (Vince Vaughn) to an old, lonely, ex-military man (Hal Holbrook)—Alex has a way of endearing himself. Everyone seems to, in a way, fall in love with him.
Alex’s two-year adventure prior to hitchhiking to Alaska is interspersed with scenes from his final weeks, living in a bus in the wilderness outside Fairbanks. He hunts for food and builds his own dams. He passes the time reading (Tolstoy, Jack London, Thoreau) and writing in his diary, which provides much of the narrative for this portion of the story.
Penn has made a beautiful film with Into the Wild. The scenery, especially in Alaska, is breathtaking. And the soundtrack, consisting of mostly original tracks by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, strikes a chord. The film’s real beauty, however, comes from characters who are so real it’s impossible not to feel connected to each and every one of them. McCandless in particular. His passion and his willingness to give up everything for his dreams are likely to awaken the inner freedom seeker in all of us.