Note: I intended this to be a spoiler-free review but it turned into something of a retrospective. There’s no major spoilers but if you want a completely “clean” review of the film, just stop here rest assured that it’s very very good.
Every now and then, you watch a film on dvd at home and kick yourself for not watching it in the cinema. Into The Wild is one of those films. It has the intimate feel of an American indie film but also the grandstanding visual scope of a western made in the “good ole days”.
The film kicks off with an excruciating family dinner after the son, Chris, graduates. The over-bearing and domineering parents make us wince but the petulant reaction from Chris demonstrates that there are two sides to every conflict. It isn’t long before Chris sets off on his ultimate and doomed act of rebellion, where he packs up all his troubles in his old kit back.
This movie is a road trip movie for large stretches but it’s also a sensitive character drama where Chris (aka Alex Supertramp) enriches and is enriched by the lives of others. He meets:
- A hippy couple with heartbreak in the past, who act as surrogate parents to Chris.
- A lonely pensioner who works leather and also acts as a surrogate father/grandfather to Chris.
- A mid-west farmer who lives life from day to day (played by an unrecognisable Vince Vaughan).
It’s the people who make this film and likewise, the message of the film is that it’s these people who enriched Chris’ life, not his futile crusade against materialism and commercialism. The film flashes back & forth constantly but it is beautifully handled by the director, Sean Penn. At no point are you confused by the timeline yet you are challenged to put the pieces together for yourself and make up your own mind.
The acting is universally excellent. Emile Hirsch is excellent as the idealistic but naive Chris McCandless. Hal Holbrook is heartbreaking as the lonely pensioner, Ron, and his Oscar nomination was well-deserved. The supporting cast are equally good but special mention must be made of William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden as his heartbroken parents. You never really find fault with them to the same extent that Chris does but by the end of the film, you will be cursing the selfish child who has done them so much harm.
The cinematography is stunning and the soundtrack is the type that will have you nodding your head and tapping your foot in time with the music. Eddie Vedder might seem an odd choice to score a film like this but it’s an inspired one.
If there’s one thing that Into The Wild will make you do, it’ll be to question your own life and also the extent to which you will go against the system and/or compromise your ideals to fit into modern life. Do we really want to marry, start lucrative businesses, have 2.3 children and know nothing of the world outside those walls? Is burning your cash and living off the land in the Alaskan wilderness a viable option? Or is the answer somewhere in the middle ground? Myself and the missus spent a few hours talking about this after the film and this is the real joy of Into The Wild. It asks questions and it doesn’t put answers in your mouth.