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Into the Wild
Kind Intentions But a Heart Somewhere Else
Take an outrageous, cross country feat around the United States meets the bizarre “hippy and nudist” congregations of the West and align it with a vivid coming-of-age adventure of a larger-than-life college graduate with a magnetic personality, and set it to a truly thought-provoking sound track in a master-edited film and you will breach into only half of Sean Penn's brilliant remake of John Krakauer’s Into the Wild. It is definitely worth your 148 minutes.
However it does start clearly that way. In the first segment, it is made to seem almost as if it were an Alaskan, home video – though very well shot – documentary-type film about the wilderness alone. However, as it advances, Chris as the main character becomes stark. The theatrical performances become clear. The storyline becomes very vivid, and the devastation between the lines of kin in Chris’ relationships is unmistakable in the barefaced and glaring honesty of its imperfection.
First off, I must give huge credit to the actors. Emile Hirsch portrays Chris very really, and very relatably. Without an actor as talented and as full of depth as Hirsch, the film would easily have been lost to a blazing confusion and fallen to uninteresting bits lacking a strong lead - in this case, someone as likable and equally odd as McCandless himself. Meanwhile Vince Vaughn as Westerberg is great at providing just that little bit of comic relief needed in such a serious film, and also an extra brotherly-love being one of the few relationships that he builds on in his mostly lone journey. Finally, Jan Burres, played by the heart-warming Catherine Keener, is captured beautifully as the main adopted mother figure to Chris.
In the transition from written book to film, there are intelligible differences. First off, the charismatic, athletic, and level-headed boy that is presented in the book suddenly becomes also a bit arrogant and overpowering – however only so towards his parents. His worded intentions are good – he believes in protecting human rights by such acts as fighting discrimination, he believes in treating people kind and justly, in listening to people and building good relationships, and in living as less materialistically as possible – such as keeping his old yellow Datsun rather than buying a new car. Yet, he will go to lengths to fight against his mom and dad in such niggling claims such as trying to build him a safe future in his career or buy him a new car. He is so determined that he will hurt them emotionally, and overwhelm them for with stupefying accusations such as ‘faking’ in society, most unfairly, forcing Billie and Walt into withdrawal with little of a fight. This is heavily contradictive because it makes him an imposter on his own beliefs. Chris believed in ‘treating people right’, but did not seem to second guess giving his mom and dad the heave ho for whatever grounds his anger was fed. All the rage and all the silence Chris had, all esteemed by a lie his parents told to conceal an embarrassing past.
Also without intention, he harms those around him emotionally. All the many people he knows and meets, excluding his sister, are left bewildered by his disappearance from their lives. Beloved sister Carine, Jan Burres and Rainey, and finally Ronald Franz - all had a certain affiliation with him that felt strong, but Chris did not wish to reciprocate. He chose to abstain from responsibility thereby avoiding expectation from the people that loved him. Only Chris could not avoid them feeling a loss after he had left them. Not mean-spirited, McCandless can surely still be named selfish to an extent. Though dedicated to listen, he never seemed to stick around enough, his interests tugging at his heart to reach Alaska.
This film, in its editing, forces the audience to engage in a different perspective handling the heavy-weight issues and matters of life. The one scene where Chris was in Los Angeles uses a very particular type of editing a bit odd for a film – most often used in crime investigation series. At all the uncomfortable images of poverty in the street – someone smoking and choking, sleeping in ruffled blankets outside a store, – were held on the screened each time they appeared to enhance the reality of it. Then another effective type of editing used quite often was a halved frame where one shot took the left side and the other the right of the screen resulting in an almost crosscut relating two images – for example one of Chris wandering in a field, and the other of him working in order to show time passing. These two important techniques were effective in developing the character of McCandless.
But there is contrast to these dark scenes, and it comes in drunken and downright weird ramblings. When a situation was meant to be funny, it was very funny. After probably a long day, when we see Chris first has a quality talk with Westerberg, intoxicated, is the first funny scene. We see the two of them sitting at the stools in a bar, having an animate and crabby rant over the unnecessary nuances of society, speaking out passionately of their sour affiliations with it. The rave almost lands them in legal trouble, but it does bring out a good laugh from the bar folk.
Though charming without effort, Chris is unquestionably partial to becoming a young Don Juan womanizer – although he easily could be, with the right attitude. In spite of this, his die-hard social morals can do nothing to prevent him from being a heartbreaker, particularly the heart of young Tracy. As a storyline plot, it was unavoidable to have a love interest involved; in this case, the star-crossed fate of Tracy falling in love – or lust – for Chris. However, it being a true story, the spotlessness by which Chris dealt with it is highly honourable. It was obvious Tracy fancied Chris, but when it developed that they were friends, a situation came that Tracy called Chris into her caravan - her parents away - with clear intentions for an intimate affair. Evidently, she was a bit confused. However Chris principally handled the situation in the cleanest way that he could by refusing. Regardless, being the humane person that he is, he offered to do something more worthwhile with her without delay by suggesting visiting a religious monument of love. The whole incident may have embarrassed Tracy – as it should have – but showed Chris to be largely compassionate. He did care for her, only not in that particular way; fair enough.
From beginning to end, the soundtrack rang true to all the visuals on film. Where a journey was sad, the music echoed it with songs such as “No Ceiling” and “Society”. Then, for others, Eddie Vedder’s hardcore rock anthems were the best method for illustrating restlessness, insomnia and even celebration. However, many parts were realizations of sweet freedom, and so the warm strumming tunes reflected that as well. A personal favourite is “Hard Sun”, an upbeat song with great insight. The brain that wrote these is most remarkable, with many of them sounding as if the persona is standing at the frontiers of society now, able to see it from up above as Chris did.
Beyond any other point, the ending stings the most. Any audience member able to read the signs that a film leaves behind will be clearly informed at the start that Chris will be lost to his parents in the cold wilderness of Alaska. However, it is set to witness the brilliant Emile Hirsch playing Chris, suffering through the devastating side effects of toxic poisoning. However, the most heartbreaking fact of it is that it is all true. The characters are real. The physical and emotional pain is genuine. Then the film leaves the audience wondering.
It is, with regret, absolute that Chris was reckless in his acts, distributing emotional fail like hard, liquid droplets from a watering can to a delicate flower; easily hurt, but always forgiving, with a little extra nurture. Where does the line end the sparing? Where does the family, the friends – when do they not permit anymore careless trampling of despair? It is, after all, not only his story that is being crossed. So many worried and bore over his return, and he, meanwhile, rejoicing over his freedom. Where did that leave matters then; for better, or for worse? And for who?