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Into the Wild

August 30, 2010

Into the Wild (2007)
Director: Sean Penn
Actors: Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook

Synopsis: University graduate Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch), goes on an epic and spiritual trek through the wilds of America, instead of following the more obvious route of job/money/family….

Review: Sean Penn exercises his estimable vision and will on this alluringly romantic tale of a bright college graduate who takes the ‘road less travelled’ in forsaking his career path and trust fund savings for a more authentic existence of nomadic travelling and living “out in nature”. As is often the way with Penn both as actor and director, he can be a touch zealous and over-persuasive in his storytelling. For Into the Wild that means Penn favouring the boldness and lustre of Chris McCandless’ journey, rather than its inherent melancholy and darkness. The accompanying folk-rock soundtrack – though appealing and effective in conveying the spirit of McCandless’ adventure – is simply too ubiquitous in the diegesis, and Penn’s directorial eye tends to favour the grand (epic nature shots of mountains and sunsets, frequent use of slo-mo) over the introspective and the serene.

The film works best in its elliptical moments, particularly in the opening strand before the narrative falls into its symbolic structure. And admittedly there is undoubted poignancy in the seguing of McCandless’ episodic journeys across the American landscape – encountering various characters – against the wordless and increasingly tragic sequences of his travails in Alaska. Purely as a matter of taste, the tale’s inclination to ascribe much of McCandless’ actions as rebellion to a troubled upbringing is a little pat, and might have been more interesting if it had sprung from a less Freudian, more transcendental origin. That apart, the film’s overwhelming confidence and power in telling an important story is hard to resist. (June 2008)

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