Wednesday, September 26, 2007
90 Second Film Review: Into the Wild (Sean Penn)
Those looking for depth, as always, are advised to search elsewhere.
Tough, tough film to externalize my thoughts on. On one hand you have the undeniable pull of the material, oscillating between exhilarating and meditative and tragic. It’s easy to see why so many are responding so strongly to the film as it does tap into the sense of idealism and hope and belief in change and leading by example that most twenty-two year olds possess right out of school. I’ve always found Penn’s directorial-projects to be gnashing, method-fests (shocker!) but there’s a real sense of naturalism and warmth and unfussy grandeur to (most of) the film that permeates everything from Eric Gautier's (The Motorcycle Diaries) photography to Eddie Vedder’s way less obnoxious than anticipated music to the devastatingly empathic performances from the likes of Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook. It’s also worth commending the job Penn does with adapting the film’s screenplay, maintaining the structure of a novel (complete with onscreen chapter headings), externalizing Christopher McCandless’ (a fine Emile Hirsch) isolation, jumping around seamlessly from one time frame to another and doing his darndest to keep the film from becoming episodic (it’s a failed endeavor but the effort is appreciated none the less).
But then on the other hand you have Penn who clearly identifies with, if not outright idolizes, McCandless, leaving the character unaccountable for almost all of his actions. In short, the kid is an asshole. A self-absorbed, condescending, preachy, hurtful asshole particularly in the way the character treats his parents (the film attempts to off-set and compensate for this by depicting them as bourgeoisie gargoyles) who’s deified on repeated occasions (at one point a character jokingly asks if he’s Jesus), dipping in and out of people’s lives, leaving behind pearls of wisdom and enlightening everyone from the half-naked jailbait throwing herself at him to the kindly old man who wishes to adopt him. The film has so much admiration for McCandless’ journey that is brushes right over the emotional damage left in his wake, never quite willing to acknowledge that his ultimate fate may have less to do with martyrdom than with a shithead getting exactly what he deserved.
I’m told Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book of the same name—which of course I haven’t read—placed more culpability at McCandless’ feet in addition to inferring most of the perceived slights at the hands of his parents (I have a hard time imagining it contains anything quite as embarrassing as a scene in the film where William Hurt tackles Marcia Gay Harden in plain sight of their understandably horrified children). At times Into the Wild feels like you’re trapped in a booth at a coffee house, forced to listen to a boorish trust-fund brat tell you how little you know about the world (it’s ultimately the film’s greatest failing the McCandless’ interactions come across no less arrogant at the end of the film than they do at the beginning). I have a hunch Matt & Trey are going to have a field day with this one. Like I said, tough film to get my arms around. I anticipate being on the outside looking in, so take with more granules of flavorful mineral than usual. B-