into the wild – what it takes to leave

Finally got around to watching Into The Wild – Sean Penn’s adaptation of the John Krakauer novel. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. So much of the hype surrounding the movie was drawn either from the Eddie Vedder soundtrack (which was great mind you…) or just the notion of absolute disregard for society and the celebration of freedom. It is this last notion – the unbridled quest for release from society and the pressures of materialism found in just going ‘into the wild’ – that has taken my undergraduates’ imagination. Penn’s directing has always been engaging to say the least (check out The Pledge, The Crossing Guard, and The Indian Runner at some point – evocative of Terence Malik’s work in The Thin Red Line which Penn starred in). Perhaps that is the problem – Into The Wild is just too engaging and inviting. Granted, the call of the wild comes at a great price in the film, but it is still not that great when placed against the “F#$% you world” ethic of Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to Oxfam and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. I honestly think Penn wants to drive a generation of young adults into the wilderness and hopes that we will all just realize that relationships will let us down and, in the end, we have no one to trust but ourselves. It is a dark prospect. Hal Holbrook’s character Ron Franz allows a single tear to roll down his cheek as McCandless departs from his offer of adoption into his family… that tear stands for a lot these days…

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  1. Penn’s ambivalence on the subject of isolation vs. companionship was, for me, a sour note. It seemed more unsure of itself than anything else.

    For a while, I thought the juxtaposition of McCandless’ experiences in the bus and his experiences w/ the people he met along the way served to highlight the emptiness of whatever he was seeking out in Alaska. When he was writhing in agony, I felt like my intuition was being confirmed — here, McCandless’ death, alone, a failure of his own failed principles (i.e., he can bring a book about plant life but not a map??) becomes incredibly pathetic. But then … right at the end, you get the sense that Penn throws out the possibility that, at the moment of McCandless’ death, he has a realization of the truth he was after, and he can die w/ a smile on his face. This really kind of ruined the impact of the contrast Penn had established the first two hours. The story should have been about

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