Into The Wild
Sean Penn steps behind the camera once more, to write and direct this robust yet freewheeling adaptation of journalist John Krakauer’s non-fiction book about the extraordinary experiences on the road of young American college graduate and society dropout Christopher McCandless. A gifted academic and athlete with a white collar future ahead of him, in 1992 McCandless turned his back on his privileged lifestyle and took off across country on a personal quest to live an alternative outdoors life.
The film, which Penn had to wait ten years to make before being given permission to do so by McCandless’s family, unashamedly champions the young man’s bold, some would argue irresponsible decision to get out there and experience the world. Accordingly, Penn’s portrait of McCandless’s travels is a poetic and romanticised one, beautifully photographed by French cinematographer Eric Gautier, scored with a folk, rock and alt-country soundtrack, and unspooling as a series of largely life-affirming experiences with nature and happy encounters with a string of benign fellow travellers.
That isn’t to say that Into the Wild, which is clearly a labour of love for Penn, is a completely partisan treatment of McCandless. While it’s made clear he credits his parents’ dysfunctional relationship and their preoccupation with the material world as his main reason for taking the decision up sticks, Billie and Walt McCandless (played by Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt) are characterised as a loving if distant mother and father, and their pain and hurt felt in their son’s long absence gives the film a poignant undertow. And as played by Emile Hirsch, the fresh-faced young actor best known until now for Lords of Dogtown, Christopher McCandless comes off not simply as a freethinking adventurer, but also as a naïve, foolhardy and precocious. Perhaps the note of ambiguity Penn strikes with his wandering protagonist suggests it is what McCandless stood for — not just thinking outside of the box, but physically stepping out of it — that’s at the heart of this quite beautiful film.
General release from Fri 9 Nov.