Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Into the Wild

Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007) [6]
John Krakauer's book on the life and death of Chris McCandless is one of the best journalistic books I've ever read. It is thoroughly researched yet goes well beyond listing facts, with Krakauer trying his best to figure out who McCandless really was. The trouble may be is that it's quite impossible to know what his motives for his treks were or what happened to him those final months in Alaska. Penn's film asks the same questions the book does but it excerpts the self-reflexive thread that made Krakauer's work so interesting. This film feels too much like the viewer is to sit there and experience Alex/McCanless's experiences rather than reflect on them. Obviously film is a visual medium so the experience is meant to be looked at. It's also true that film can't not be a reflective medium but Penn pares the film down to a lyrical celebration of McCandless and his experiences. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that but I felt like the film just lacked something. McCandless to me is such an intriguing figure. I have admiration for what's behind what he does and extremely sorry for his arrogance that ultimately led to his death. The first half of the film finds Chris as played by Emile Hirsch lacking these qualities often. Only the sequences in Alaska and some later moments in the film really strongly form what I think that character should have been. These moments done right are about as good as they can be. The problem that keeps this film from being a great film is that they aren't consistent enough. Penn's directorial choices, such as the breakup of the film into chapters and a lot of the narration, with the exception of Chris, don't work enough. Still, it's worth saying that Penn has crafted a film that clearly has it's focus in the right place. Hirsch has his moments when he feels really close to the person I think Chris McCandless was. I admit it's hard for this film to measure up to what I felt it should have been compared to the book, but it's not a worthwhile effort from Penn.

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