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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Into the Wild: Movie Review

I finally saw Into the Wild tonight. Worked till 7:30ish, headed to the gym, and caught the late show after a decent workout.

I really liked the book but never had that awe-struck sense of who Chris McCandless was. Instead, I had that "what the hell would he go and do that for" sense about many of his more hardcore actions.

Short and sweet for those unaware of what I'm talking about: Christopher Johnson McCandless graduated college and decided to be a tramp. After giving away $24,000, he travelled the country for the next two years, eventually walking into the Alaskan wilderness and never coming back out. He died after three months in the wild, of starvation, after successfully living off the land throughout the continent until his failed Great Alaskan Adventure.

Where the movie works and the book fails, though, is in really presenting the awe-inspiring wonders this kid lived and experienced for two solid years, living more in those months than most people live in a lifetime.

But he spent his time trying to run from something that inevitably followed him into the wilderness. In reading a passage in Tolstoy, he realized that he couldn't be truly happy if he was alone, and decided to try and get back to civilization. The visuals of his struggles and his failures, the beauty of the world around him, and all that, it really brought home for me what the kid was trying to achieve, and now I finally do get it.

I still think he was an idiot to wander in the back woods of Alaska without really knowing the incredible power that that nature has to snuff you like a church candle. You don't fuck with Alaska. The wilderness isn't something you walk into, flip a switch, and leave because the whim strikes. There are real obstacles, many physically insurmountable. The kid found out the hard way.

There's nature, and then there's the North. The only thing different about the Yukon versus Alaska is, there's one person in the Yukon for every 10 to 15 in Alaska. I had no problem remembering that far better people than me had died in the wild when I lived up north.

But I have my little moments akin to Chris McCandless's poignant Man Alone moments out back there. I know what it's like to sit in the middle of nothing for as far as the eye can see, and to have your own little reckoning with God. I've never done it hardcore like he had, but I have an inkling.

And now, having seen the movie, the methods to his madness make some sense... and the true tragedy of his death is so bare for all to see. Man, the person he would've become had he survived that. What a contribution he could've made.

Funny thing is, it's only 15 years later, but today, a kid like McCandless would be watching Survivor Man and shows like that, learning how to live off the land because he has 77 channels and a remote. He'd probably make it out alive this time 'round.

Anyhow. The movie's too long. It's very, very good, and given the eye candy and the experiences, the overlong bit tends to be somewhat wearable. Also, I think Sean Penn was a little too self-indulgent as a director at times, focusing on beauty and abstracts, etc, much the way Terrence Malick did and pissed me off in Thin Red Line, but it sort of works for Penn... still kinda annoying, though. I'm trying to ignore it because this is the movie he's wanted to make for 12 years, and finally got to do. Naturally he'll get a little indulgent.

If you liked the book, you really ought to see the movie. Krakauer's probably pretty happy with the spin Penn made on his book. Very well done. I'm surprised the real-life sister contributed to the narration... I think Penn did a great job adapting it. Really great treatment for the book.

I'm rambling now and I need to go stretch the stiffness of the gym-meets-theatre out of me.