Go see this movie. It’s playing at the Academy 6 if you’re around Pasadena. It’s $2 before 6 PM and a whopping $3 after 6 PM. And if you want, right before it, you can have a fabulous Vietnamese dinner at Hanoi (corner of Mentor and Colorado) for 7 bucks, or the best Chicken Tikka in LA at New Delhi Palace (same place).
I didn’t see it for about six months because someone had vehemently boycotted it, because the movie is “not faithful to the book”. The classic excuse.
I made the fatal and rare mistake of not investigating it. I realize in hindsight now, that I was afraid it was going to be like Grizzli Man, which, again, I still have not seen. So maybe it’s not a rare mistake, maybe it’s a prejudice against a certain type of Utopian movie. I can be pretty harsh in my criticism when it comes to film. I guess it goes with the passion. But passion can be blinding.
First of all, the book was not written by Chris McCandless (the hero), so the fact the movie was not faithful to it, should not have mattered. And second, I should not have assumed the movie would be the same strange demented documentary style as Grizzli Man (yessss, Nic, I will rent it and watch it this week).
You probably all know what the movie is about, but just in case, this is my summary: Chris McCandless graduates from Emory university, with grades good enough to go to Harvard Law. He is a passionate lover of literature, he is frustrated with his life, and the materialistic obsessions of his parents. One day, he drives his old beat-up Datsun west-ward, burning all his ID information, and giving his $24,0000 of savings to OXFAM. Once his family realizes he’s gone, after two months of silence, he is untraceable. Chris McCandless then emerges through this trip, as Alexander SuperTramp, and continues his journey west-ward, towards his ultimate goal of the Great White North, his “great Alaskan adventure”, meeting incredible people along the way, birthing into a new identity, closer to the the Truth, as he sees it, and growing through adolescence into manhood.
Sean Penn filmed the movie, it’s fresh and evocative camera-work. Eddie Vedder (thanks Al!) lends his voice to the soundtrack, which is perfect, and Emile Hirsch is riveting. So if you want to have a pristine experience and not have it spoiled by what I have to say (and I guarantee you it will spoil part of the experience) then stop reading this post. Come back to it once you’ve seen the movie. I warned you. Caveat: I loved the movie, I just have a lot to say about it because it stirred up so much in me, so all that follows is coming from a good place. A good, warm place, like my cupcakes.
***ALL SPOILERS FROM HERE***
*don’t say I didn’t warn you*
I loved this movie, but I am also fiercely attached to the truth. One of the things I enjoyed the most about Into the Wild is the mental process of arrival to the truth. 2008 so far has been about process for me in many ways. I’ll have to explain this later, but it’s been a really introspective and fruitful journey. More later.
What I mean by process of arrival to the truth is that the very arc of Into the Wild is about Chris McCandless’s journey towards truth and authenticity, but that the viewer is also on a complex journey towards truth: the truth expressed by the intent of the movie, its artistic and philosophical core, and the underlying truth, the reality of Chris’s life. The latter is a post-viewing process. The fascinating thing is that the movie takes liberties on the book of the same name that is written by Jon Krakauer who, himself, took liberties with Chris’s experience, romanticizing and extrapolating them into the Great American Westward journey.
Layers and layers of complexity weave into each other to make this a confusing, stimulating journey. One could say it is frustrating, but I found the contrast between the very artistic license and the tragic, probable underlying reality to be absolutely riveting.
First read this fantastic article: Into the Wild: The False Being Within, by Craig Medred, an Alaskan journalist. I can’t tell you how much I loved this article, it just complemented the experience of the movie beyond words.
In reading Medred’s article, I have to say I can’t help but agreeing with his vision that the real arc of the character is in fact his journey into schizophrenia and ultimate defeat, Alexander SuperTramp effectively killing Chris, perceived as the “false being within”, the identity that he had run away from for so long, burning his social security number, destroying his driver’s license, reneging his family and origins. The arrival of Chris at what he perceived as truth, was in the end, a descent into madness, which in the end poses an even more fascinating question as to what was his truth? Which was the false being: Chris or Alexander?
One of the core events of the movie is a gentle but deep confrontation between Alexander SuperTramp and a hippie character played by the amazing, as always, Katherine Keener. She confronts him about his family and his escape, speaking more from her issues with her disappeared son. Alexander responds to her, paraphrasing a Thoreau quote**:
** original Thoreau quote went: “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” from Walden 1854.