INTO THE WILD is the biographical account of real-life survivalist Christopher McCandless who is a possible Darwin Award winner who wanted to be like Jack London or Henry David Thoreau as he abandoned society to live alone in the wilderness of Alaska. However, he mistook poisonous fruits for good food and accidentally killed himself by eating them.
The film is based on a book by author Jon Krakauer who criticizes McCandless for his poor decisions, and not just for eating poison berries. However, writer-director Sean Penn instead glamorizes and glorifies McCandless' less-than-wise choices, making McCandless out to be some kind of enlightened hero, when in reality, he was nothing but privileged, well-read and slightly naive.
Emile Hirsch plays young Chris McCandless who after graduating from Emory University suddenly disappears for two years until his dead body is found starved to death in Alaska. Clearly this guy is an adventure-seeker, but cutting himself off from his family, and really all of mankind, without any word along the way of where he was going was foolish.
And the only explanation is that his parents argued when he was younger. His father apparently had an affair and his mother knew about it and tolerated, only having the occasional blow up, but in McCandless' mind they were living a lie. Therefore, when he hits the road, what does McCandless do? He lies about his name, and yet he claims he wants to live a truthful life. That made no sense.
He cuts up his ID cards, literally burns his cash and abandons his car on the side of the road.He claims to want to be one with nature yet he decides to live in an abandoned bus because it has a bed and a stove. Yeah, some naturalist!
In the desert of California, he claims to be wiser than an old man he meets who's actually suffered a real loss and who's actually had a full life. McCandless thinks because he's read Tolstoy he knows more than a man old enough to be his grandfather. I don't think so.
Then at the end, after swearing that there's more to life and happiness than human relationships, he scribbles in his little book that life is better when you have someone to share it with, someone other than the moose head you've just decapitated, which makes his whole trip slightly fun if ultimately pointless.
And, I must emphasize the only slightly fun. The majority of this film had me yawning. There are maybe one or two scenes that are genuinely exciting like the kayaking down the river rapids scene but it's sacrificed to being maybe 30 secs to give time for some stupid people on the banks of the Colorado that McCandless meets who add nothing to the story. A bulk of the reels is McCandless alone scribbling notes and making notches in his belt. Boring!
It disappointed me that this was Sean Penn's directorial debut. The man who's now known for powerful dramatic roles delivers from behind the camera a lame travelogue that might be interesting to lovers of National Geographic or the Travel Channel, but not to me.
Actor Emile Hirsch seemed at times to be doing a Sean Penn impression in a few scenes, a bad Sean Penn impression, especially in the initial scene with his parents, which had me tilting my head.
Jena Malone who co-starred with Hirsch five years ago in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, a far better film than this, is highly under-utilized as simply a narrator. Boring!
This movie should have been less about McCandless' stupid physical journey and more about the fallout of his family or the impressions of his vis-a-vis the people he encountered as a kind of elegiac documentary, not this lame narrative.
In high school, I took a film class where my teacher told me that travelogue movies were boring. I didn't agree with him at the time because he was talking about a movie that I had made. I didn't think that I would ever agree with my teacher, Mr. Seger, until I saw this new movie. Yes, this new movie is basically a travelogue, and, yes, this new movie is boring. It dragged and dragged until about half way through I was wishing for this guy to just hurry up and die already.
One Star out of Five.
Rated R for language and some nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 20 mins.
Showing at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 13 and Wednesday, Feb. 17.