Sean Penn’s film based on Jon Krakauers’ famous book opens in Los Angeles and New York today, with wider release in two weeks. Advance notices are mostly positive. Among those who liked it:
Wandering the desert with a volume of Thoreau in hand, kayaking his way down the Colorado River without rowing skills (or a permit), finally voyaging into the mountains of Alaska, as far from humanity as he can get, he takes a journey of recklessness that maybe only a privileged kid could have imagined. Yet there’s a bravery to its indulgence. He’s going nowhere, just living, maybe dying — and embracing the adventure.
If there is a shard of triumph in Penn’s adaptation, it is in its depiction of an America we don’t see in movies, the antithesis of what movies sell us. McCandless (played by the extraordinary Emile Hirsch [Lords of Dogtown, The Emperor’s Club], who’s like Leonardo DiCaprio 10 years ago, all coiled intensity and wrapped-up irony) sought not just a life off the grid but a life almost impossible in today’s world, one removed not just from the tyranny of pop culture but from the tyranny of humanity’s codifying and fencing off of the authenticity of nature.
… the film’s imperfection, like its grandeur, arises from a passionate, generous impulse that is as hard to resist as the call of the open road.
Penn, in tandem with the superb cinematographer Eric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries), captures the majesty and terror of the wilderness in ways that make you catch your breath.
There were detractors, among them:
Skillfully constructed, the film is hampered by a reliance on McCandless’ pretentious, facile ruminations. Although he occasionally shows him in an unflattering light, Penn doesn’t question whether McCandless’ anti-materialist, “absolute truth/freedom through nature” creed is a cover story for running away from responsibility and himself, nor does he probe into why he pursues the extreme isolation that costs him his life.
Penn utilizes a variety of multimedia meansóhandwriting across the screen, narration from McCandless’s travel logs and from his loyal sister Carine (Jena Malone), twilight panoramas of the vast countryside, flashbacks and (phony) home movie footageóand yet McCandless remains something of a cipher, a man primarily glimpsed through his own written thoughts as well as the recollections of loved ones. These sources, alas, prove insufficient, since McCandless’s ruminations on “ultimate freedom” and wanting to “kill the false being within” are so self-aggrandizing that he comes off less a quixotic truth-seeker than someone wielding derivative ideals to mask a more obvious, immature adolescent revolt against his mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and father (William Hurt).
Outside magazine has a whole raft of stuff on “Into the Wild,” including an on-location report by the mag’s editor in chief, and Krakauer’s original magazine article, which inspired the book that inspired the movie. From Krakauer’s intro:
Alex’s gear seemed excessively slight for the rugged conditions of the interior bush, which in April still lay buried under the winter snowpack. He admitted that the only food in his pack was a ten-pound bag of rice. He had no compass; the only navigational aid in his possession was a tattered road map he’d scrounged at a gas station, and when they arrived where Alex asked to be dropped off, he left the map in Gallien’s truck, along with his watch, his comb, and all his money, which amounted to 85 cents. “I don’t want to know what time it is,” Alex declared cheerfully. “I don’t want to know what day it is, or where I am. None of that matters.”
If you’re in the Big Apple or Los Angeles and can get out to see the movie this weekend, please chime in with your impressions.