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Into the Wild (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Into the Wild


Starring Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Zach Galiafinakis, Kristen Stewart and Hal Holbrook.

Screenplay by Sean Penn.

Directed by Sean Penn.

Distributed by Paramount Vantage.  140 minutes.  Rated R.

I suspect that there will be two very polar opposite kinds of reactions to the main character of Into the Wild – reactions which will completely color how a viewer sees the film in general.

Many people will see him as a hero – someone who is willing to shed all the trappings of modern society to test his will and stamina to experience nature at its most beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Many others will look at the guy and see a spoiled, immature rich kid – one who often hurts people around him, takes advantage of strangers’ generosity and is blindly rebelling against a life which has not been all that hard on him.

Both camps will have legit arguments, and both would probably be completely right.

Perhaps because I don’t necessarily share Christopher McCandless’ romantic hobo wanderlust, I tend to come down more in the second camp.

Not that I don’t respect his right to see the world (even though he was regularly breaking laws to do it) and experience the wonders of nature – it’s just that only parts of his trip are appealing to me.  The destinations are almost always more interesting than the voyages.  So much of it seems selfish and self-indulgent.

The film keeps telling us that his home life was so unbearable, and yet the slices of it we are shown in flashback weren’t that bad – sure it was an unhappy home, full of arguments and the hint of possibly a little violence – but there are people who live through a lot worse every day.  He also claims to love his sister (Jena Malone) and always be there for her – and yet he makes no attempt to get word to her that he is alive and happy despite the fact that he must realize that she is frantic about him.

He is as thoughtless to the strangers who care for him on the road.  He flirts with a beautiful girl he meets at a hobo camp, all the while knowing she wants more from him than he can or will give her.  (On a side note – I’d be willing to bet that there are not many, if any, girls at hobo camps that are half as beautiful as Kristen Stewart, who plays the role.)

He goads an elderly man (Hal Holbrook) – who has offered him friendship, food and a home – for living his little boring life.  He shames the old guy into climbing a mountain face, never considering how dangerous that would be to a man of this advanced age.

Is he doing all this because he feels a call to bond with the world or just because he has nothing better to do?

He keeps pointing out that it is a great adventure, but as a nice hippie couple he meets on the road points out to him, it is possible to live on the road and at the same time allow yourself some creature comforts.  Is he trying to experience the wild or become a martyr to it?  After all, at a certain point you just have to ask: is going to Alaska without much in the way of food or supplies an act of bravery or stupidity?

So, while Into the Wild is full of gorgeous scenery, quirky supporting characters and the splendor of the animal world, I can’t really say I ever warmed up to it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 16, 2007.

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