Thursday, January 17, 2008

Movies: Into the Wild

This was the last of the films that I had intended to see in the theater and hadn't found time to do so, but was able to catch instead on the seat-back screen during a trans-Atlantic flight. Since it had been playing at all of the "good" theaters, and for quite a long time, too, I thought it was going to be a really intense, beautiful, meaningful film. I certainly did not expect it to be the romantic Velveeta dreck that it was.

The film is based, in case you don't know, on the true story of Christopher McCandless, who, upon college graduation, gave away his life savings, abandoned his car, and went—you guessed it—into the wild of Alaska, alone, with a backpack, a rifle, and some very limited supplies, including some knowledge he'd gained while banging around the country for a year or so, doing odd jobs, learning basic survival skills, and "touching people's lives," all, of course, without telling his family where he was.

The spoiler (sorry) is that he dies of starvation in the end, and it's a real shame that star Emile Hirsch lost so much weight for such a shallow film (as opposed to the cast of Rescue Dawn). He actually does pretty well, considering the grating gooeyness of Sean Penn's cliche-ridden screenplay (featuring old-fashioned parents who "just don't understand," the spunky little sister left behind "to tell the story," the hippies on the road who become "the parents he wished he had," and the Liv Tyler-channeling "bright young thing" whose heart he breaks along the way).

Ultimately, McCandless, portrayed as a post-materialist truth-seeker, an unsullied wise-child, an adherent of the American ideals touted by the Transcendentalists, appeared to me little more than a proud, spoilt child who, like most of us suburban children of baby-boomers, considered himself hot shit and had something to prove. He paid no heed to the hearts he broke along the way (particularly those of his parents, but also those of the people on the road whose lives he crashed through as if they were unfeeling Alaskan landscapes—mountains and rivers no worse for the wear. If we are to buy into Penn's myth, McCandless shone a never-before-seen light into the dark lives of the people he met on his way to Alaska (like the old widower who spends his days working alone in his leather shop), but if we consider his actions more closely, McCandless only flashed that light long enough to show people what they were missing, and then snatch it away from them again (that old man cries when saying goodbye to McCandless (who's been living with him for months), who had tried to sneak away in the early hours of the morning without any farewell at all).

Worse, none of McCandless' adventures are presented in a remotely fresh way, except for the one moment of genuine humor when, illegally rafting down a river, he stops and has a hot dog with a topless Danish couple blasting M.C. Hammer's Can't Touch This from a cheap boom-box (all of which charm comes from the Danes). If you're going to go out and have an adventure, do like the Danes and bring hot dogs and a radio.

1 comment:

Joni said...

Did you read the book? I read the book years ago and thought it was kind of spooky. Never had any desire to see the film* and based on reviews, seems I am not missing much.

*I generally find books to be superior to their film adaptations. In fact, I can't think of any film I've liked better than the book except Great Expectations, and that really isn't saying much because I detest Dickens.