Into the Wild Sean Penn

Into the Wild Sean Penn

Into The Wild generated as much buzz as any major film at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival for a few reasons. Eddie Vedder’s score alone is a hip little selling point, add Emile Hirsch’s complex breakthrough performance and Eric Gautier’s jaw-dropping Alaskan cinematography and it means prestige and perhaps some profit for director Sean Penn’s fourth feature.

Chris McCandless graduates university at the top of his class. His controlling upper-crust parents hope he’ll attend law school. Instead, he abandons his possessions and I.D. and walks into the wilderness. He backpacks through the U.S., meeting memorable characters in a series of vignettes, including Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan and Hal Holbrook as an old man who hopes to adopt Chris. His ability to rhyme off a Thoreau quote for any occasion convinces them he’s more than just a misguided young idealist. He plans to spend a winter in the Alaskan wilderness but is wildly unprepared and dies of starvation.

Excerpts from McCandless’s diary are the strength of Jon Krakauer’s book and also a major fixture of the movie, co-written by Penn and Krakauer. Some will hate McCandless for his self-righteous rejection of societal values and consider him a flake. There’s plenty of evidence to support this; he does after all, burn his money and christen himself "Alexander Supertramp.”

Some have criticised Krakauer for romanticising the destructive whims of a naive undergrad. Others consider McCandless a modern-day hero. The book is a multi-faceted mystery that attempts to understand why this happened. Penn’s film simplifies matters; it celebrates Chris’s free-spirited search for truth through slow-motion odes to man’s connection with the wilderness. This is unquestionably Penn’s finest work as a director. (Paramount Vantage) Mike Sauve (Paramount Vantage)