The wild doesn’t always mean a loss of humanity or connection with people!
Screenplay By: Sean Penn
Directed By: Sean Penn
I struggled through the first hour or so of Into The Wild, and it wasn’t because it was a bad film. I struggled because I was having trouble reconciling the films view of the wild with my own. In my eyes Chris never actually went into the wild or accepted a lifestyle that was minimalist or more in tune with nature, simply because he refused to abandon all the amenities that modern life provided, such as packaged rice, a man made knife, a gun, and more. I struggled with this reconciliation for about the first hour and then something began to click. Chris was in many ways an idiot, a well intentioned idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. He was no different than any young man who has formed a rebellious streak against the modern world, yet when he rebels he remains tethered to the modern world he so abhors. Once I made this discovery the first hour was no longer a struggle but a part of one great journey.
Now, I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about me calling Chris an idiot. Undoubtedly he did get himself killed because he entered into a situation that was too far above his head and for that a certain amount of idiocy is required. But, there is a difference between idiocy in the result and idiocy in the person. Chris struck me as relatively bright, not a genius, but a headstrong kid who had in mind a life he wanted to live and he set about getting there. This is where the brilliance of Into The Wild begins, because Chris’ journey is wondrous to behold, but along the way he meets people who show us that the film understands how foolhardy Chris’ quest is, regardless of its good intentions. It never crosses over into idolizing Chris, in fact his viewpoint on the world is never fully articulated, whereas the voices of reasonable dissent are always intelligible and fully articulated. The people he meets see the truth in Chris and they see how his journey will possibly end, and this is when the film doesn’t idolize Chris but knocks him down a few pegs and shows how impetuous he was.
The defining moment of Into The Wild came for me when the emaciated Chris writes in his journal that the only real happiness is shared. This tied the movie together for me and possibly offered me a different interpretation than others have taken. At that moment I believe the film sided against Chris, that while it still lauded his individuality it also bemoaned his lack of respect for the role human companionship plays in the individual journey. There never has been a true wild lifestyle, even the most singular beings at one time or another sought the company and happiness brought by others. When Chris dies alone it is tragic, but it isn’t tragic because he dies having not completed his journey. It is tragic because he dies after having finally realized that it’s okay to forsake the modern world, but not if that means losing the ability to share your experiences with others.
Outside of the general feel and emotions that Into The Wild engendered it was beautiful to look at. The work of Eric Gautier evoked a strong feeling of watching a Terrence Malick film in me. His ability to capture the essence of nature shines through in every frame and creates beautiful shot after beautiful shot. Another form of beauty that Into The Wild brings to the table is the music of Eddie Vedder. I’m not a big Pearl Jam fan, but I do enjoy their music. The music that Vedder supplies for Into The Wild becomes like a character in the film. It supplies the intent of Chris’ journey even moreso than the narration of Jena Malone.
I have been a fan of Emile Hirsch’s since I first saw The Girl Next Door. Into The Wild is certainly a much different film, but some of the same attributes I liked in that film are present in the young actor in this film. He knows when to smile and laugh, how to use body mannerisms to get across a point and how to make the audience buy his character. He is especially great in the last moments of Chris’ life, where with his eyes and a couple of tears he tells us all we need to know about the revelatory moment that Chris has just undergone. The rest of the cast is superb as well, all playing their parts with equal assurance, but this is Emile Hirsch’s film for every frame.
I didn’t expect to fall in love with Into The Wild as much as I did. But, I did and it is for moments of discovery such as the one I had with Into The Wild that I love watching movies. It isn’t an airy film and it isn’t necessarily for the weak of stomach in its darker final act. But, Into The Wild is an emotionally engaging film that reveals certain truths that should be known to everyone, it’s just most of us go through periods where we deny those truths or pretend they don’t exist.