Based on the non fiction book by Jon Krakauer, Sean Penn’s movie traces the life of Christopher McCandless, a college graduate who gave it all up (education, career and family) to pack up and go Into The Wild. The film plays like a fairy tale in which the protagonist, Christopher (Emile Hirsch) takes a journey where he meets an assortment of people in order to learn how to love and hence be comfortable with himself and life once again.
Penn’s film is remarkably thorough in establishing the basis for the man’s actions. His abandonment of civilization is at first traced to be due to his feuding parents (disturbingly portrayed by William Hurt and Marcia Harden). But other factors include his loss of identity (his mother never married) and especially his sheer love for being alone out in the wild. His excursions on a kayak, riding free on trains and love for nature are indicative of the fact. His destruction of his identification is questioned when he suddenly adopts the name of Alexander Supertramp. But you need to watch Into The Wild to see that this young man is not easily or meant to be understood. What is amazing is the way Alex learns himself and teaches those he meets during his odyssey leading to Alaska.
Though his tale is sometimes a meandering one with highs of laughter and lows of tears and hardship, Penn often allows his actors a free hand to do their thing. Vince Vaughn in particular hams up in his scenes. But the controlled ones are the most effective. The discussion on life with his adoptive grandfather (the excellent Hal Holbrook not seen in films for almost a decade) and Alex’s brush with a grizzly are examples.
One flaw you can notice when you watch Into The Wild online is that the assembly of the flashbacks (the time reference being the time Alex sets up home in the magic bus) is at times clumsy – though the sequence of the journey is summarized near the end. Still, Into The Wild is one of the best road movies made in a long time. That gets better on second watching. The music and songs by Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam) is amazingly appropriate and glides the movie along.