Into The Wild

Directed by Sean Penn, Written by Jon Krakauer (book) and Sean Penn (screenplay)
Screening at FACT from 16th November 2007

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

A major contradiction about this film, based on Chris McCandless – who wanted anonymity in his overriding desire to escape from the American rat race - is that his name and his deeds have been publicised around the world via the bestselling book. The film of the book, which includes a lot of literary allusions, is split into chapters written about McCandless by Jon Krakauer.

McCandless rejected mainstream society, but that same society now portrays him as a hero.

Another aspect which would have appalled McCandless - who died in the wilds of Alaska in 1992 - is that director Sean Penn received total cooperation from his family in the making of the film, even though McCandless basically disowned them, except for his sister.

Although it is beautifully photographed by Eric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries), and is a cracking story, full of the love of nature, reflection. pathos, regret, abject loneliness, revenge and everything else which constitutes being alive, does McCandless deserve this tribute?

In an early shot, Alexander Supertram - a name which McCandless took on board after setting out on his quest to escape into the wilderness - sets fire to a bunch of dollar bills, after destroying his ID card, and yet on he picks up a cheque from a post office as payment for the work he undertook on a farm.

He professes to love nature yet repeatedly shoots animals and birds in cold blood in order to stay alive.

Is he totally selfish in his quest for isolation, or does he have a steely self-belief in being able to turn his back on people who become enchanted with him on his travels? They include the two ageing hippy travellers, the pretty young folk singer, and in what is the most heartfelt part of the film, the desperately lonely old man, Ron (Hal Holbrook), who asks to adopt him in order to keep alive his family name.

I guess it is the former because he rejects them all.

McCandless had walked out of his comfortable home, leaving behind his parents (William Hurt and Marcias Gay Harden), who had had a suspect relationship together that deeply hurt their son, as well as his sister Carine (Jena Malone).

Highly intelligent - he was destined to go to Harvard Law School - he also proved very resourceful in the manner in which he was able to adapt to the often harsh climate of Alaska.

But a question arises regarding his time in this terrain - how does Krakauer know what he did while hidden away alone in the abandoned bus in the mountains which he used as his home?

What is Penn trying to say in the making of this film? Many theories have been put forward, including are people still able to escape from the ever-increasing iron grip of the materialist mentality dominant in the USA.

Whatever he is trying to comment on, Penn, despite the reservations mentioned earlier, has made a great film. One of the best of 2007 without question.

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