I had my reservations about watching Into the Wild from the very first time I saw a preview for the film before its theatrical release. I usually don’t like main characters who are dubbed as “free spirits”, nor do I like the whole concept of a character shunning society because he thinks everything sucks. Since the previews indicated that this was the essence of the lead in Into the Wild, I didn’t bother with it.
But then I let the buzz, hype, positive reviews, Academy Award nominations, and the fact that it’s based on a true story get to me. So many people loved this movie that I felt there might be something there after all and finally gave in the last time I was at Blockbuster. I should have just trusted my initial instincts on this one, however, as I started squirming restlessly from the opening scenes almost until the credits rolled — a seemingly interminable 148 minutes later.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Back in 1992, Chris McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) graduated from Emory College in Georgia full of dreams and ideals. Unlike most 22-year-olds, however, he wasn’t thinking of grad school, a career, or accumulating material possessions. Instead, he wanted to give everything away and wander around for a while, living off the land like his hero Henry David Thoreau.
Towards that end, he donates most of the money he has left over in his college fund ($24,000) to Oxfam International, loads up a his old Datsun, and takes off with nary a word to his parents Walt (William Hurt) and Billie (Marcia Gay Harden) or his sister Carine (Jena Malone). His car gets trashed in a mudslide soon thereafter, and from then on Chris walks and hitchhikes to wherever he wants to go.
While on his journey, he decides that his ultimate destination is Alaska, where he wants to spend considerable time living by himself outside the constraints of society. On his way there, he meets countless people who embrace him and his quest, treating him with more kindness than strangers usually bestow on ragged wanderers.
After finally making it to Alaska, Chris finds an abandoned bus meant to be used as a shelter for hunters. There are some supplies in the bus, so Chris moves on in and lives there through the winter. When his food stores run low, he decides to head back to civilization to stock up, but can’t cross a raging river that is much higher and swifter than it was when he first arrived. With a lack of game to hunt, Chris slowly and painfully starves to death.
My Reaction: I actually saw Into the Wild four days ago, but waited to write the review because I feared that my initial reaction was too strong. After giving myself time to think about it, however, I still HATE this movie and regret that I ever wasted this much of my life watching someone throw his away.
Before I get into all the things I disliked about the film, I just want to say that my reaction is based only on the movie that I saw. I didn’t read the book and know nothing about the real Christopher McCandless, so this is simply my reaction to the events as portrayed by director Sean Penn and actor Emile Hirsch.
That being said, I could not stand Hirsch’s performance throughout most of this film. He came across as very smug, self-centered, arrogant, and ignorant, with few redeeming qualities to speak of. I did enjoy some of his scenes with Hal Holbrook (where Hirsch made Chris seem to be a genuinely nice person) but for the most part, I hated watching this guy — to the point where I practically cheered when he got his ass kicked by the railroad inspector.
I simply couldn’t identify with McCandless at all because people like him are nauseatingly self-righteous in real life. Material possessions aren’t cool — unless they’re old and junky. Chris wouldn’t accept a new car, but didn’t mind his old one. Why is that? A material possession is a material possession, right? Big corporations are evil and lead to a corrupt society — but that didn’t stop Chris from working at McDonald’s to make money for his trip to Alaska. Hypocrite.
Another thing I didn’t like about Chris as portrayed in this film is the way Penn took great pains to show how much Chris admired Jack London and Henry David Thoreau. Well, if that was the case, then Chris didn’t really learn much from either of those guys, did he? If he had read London carefully, he would have had far more respect for nature and how brutal the elements can be, and he wouldn’t have gone into Alaska so woefully unprepared.
If he had read HDT carefully, he would have seen that hard work and foresight are required to live off the land. Walden is basically page after page after page of Thoreau hoeing land, taking care of his crops, storing up food for winter, and just working, working, working to make his experiment a success. Sitting around in a “magic bus” watching his food stores run low is not something Thoreau would have done.
You might say that I’m just attacking Chris’s personality here and not really talking about the film. That’s kind of true, but it’s because nothing noteworthy happened in the film!! It was all about this kid who took off basically because he hated his parents (which, BTW, boo friggin’ hoo. Lots of people have rough childhoods, but they don’t run off to Alaska on a suicide mission). There was no action, no conflict… nothing else to talk about.
I guess I could mention something about Penn here, since those who enjoyed the film inevitably talk about how beautiful it looked. Yes, some of the wilderness shots were nice, but I thought Penn was rather heavy-handed throughout. I mean, how many times did we need to see Chris making new notches in his belt? He’s losing weight because he’s not eating enough — we get it!
Chris’s slow death was excruciating to watch because nobody deserves to die all alone like that, not even someone who brought it on himself through sheer stupidity. He didn’t prove anything. He didn’t make a profound statement. His death was completely unnecessary, and I feel sorry for the family he left behind. Alexander Supertramp? How about Alexander Stupidtramp.
Overall, I couldn’t stand Into the Wild and give it 1 star out of 5. I’m not sure why people are so in love with this film, but if I were you, I’d take the positive reviews with a grain of salt.