Young and full of juice

Into The Wild: 148 minutes. Rated: M. Director: Sean Penn. Starring: Emile Hirsch, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook.

Into The WildThe bright eyes of youth often see clearly the things that are wrong with society. What soulful young person has not longed to escape the greed and hypocrisy, the endless treadmill of bourgeois accomplishment? But for young Christopher McCandless, these idealistic dreams of freedom were deadly serious. In 1990, at age 22, having just graduated from college, McCandless donated his life savings to Oxfam, severed all ties with family and friends, and set off on a two-year journey that would conclude in the isolated wilds of tooth-and-claw Alaska.

Director Sean Penn has adapted Jon Krakaeur's best-selling book about this nonconforming wanderer, and turned it into a visually stunning and inspiring hymn to freedom. McCandless is played by Emile Hirsch (Alpha Dog), who brings to the role such charisma and purity of spirit that it's hard not to see him as an irresistible golden-skinned saint. The camera almost lustfully adores his lean muscles and unkempt curls, but the light that shines from within comes from his unwavering belief in the path he must follow. His beloved books (Tolstoy, London, Thoreau) inspire him with the thoughts of other men similarly possessed.

For a man pursuing solitude, McCandless seems to have had a gift for the quick-struck friendship, and this film's best moments focus on those connections that are made on the road. There is the big-hearted merry wheat farmer (Vince Vaughn); the troubled hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker); and the God-fearing old timer (Hal Holbrook) who wishes to adopt the lad as his grandson.

But family and community are at odds with McCandless's grand vision of self-sufficiency and solitude. The film works hard to sympathise with the singlemindedness of a man who can so cruelly cut ties with his typically imperfect parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) and his much-loved sister (Jena Malone).

Skilfully shot on location, traveling from the wheat fields of South Dakota to the rapids of the Colorado River on to the solemn icy woods of Alaska, the film is a visually epic journey that echoes the inner travels of its hero. Underscoring the adventure — serious but never melancholy — is a freewheeling soundtrack, enriched by songs composed and sung by Eddie Vedder.

Sometimes this over-long film stumbles in its attitude to its subject, unsure of whether to glorify this terribly young lost soul. But Into the Wild remains a film of great beauty and integrity; a reminder of what it was to be young and full of juice, and longing to be free.


Rochelle SiemienowiczRochelle Siemienowicz is the film reviews editor for The Big Issue Australia. She has a PhD in Philosophy and Cultural Inquiry with a focus on Australian cinema and globalisation. Rochelle blogs at www.itsbetterinthedark.blogspot.com.

 

 

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