There is nothing better than when you stumble upon a film that you never guessed you’d enjoy. I remember like it was yesterday, I’m sitting in my English class in high school and my teacher hands up this book with a cover of a young man on top of a rusty old van. Like they say not to do, I judged the book by it’s cover, but it was once I began reading the first few pages that I knew this book was going to be special. Only a week later, I finished the book with enough emotions running around in my head that I could have had my own cast for an Inside Out sequel. Then I was given the chance that all students cherish when in school, your teacher shows you a DVD case with that same young man atop a rusty old van and a television illuminates with it’s signature blue input screen.
It was only a few years after the film was in theaters did I then get a chance to see the film myself for the first time. It stars Emile Hirsch, an actor who had the potential to be the next DiCaprio if he was given the chances. Sadly, with crap shows like Speed Racer among less than stellar films, Hirsch wasn’t given the consistent chances to showcase what he has deep down inside of his acting talents. Thankfully, Sean Penn was the man to give him more than one chance to be a part of some seriously special films and the first is Into the Wild. It’s a story about a 22 year old man who chooses to leave his privileged life behind in order to explore the wonders and mysteries of America. On his journey, he meets a cast of colorful characters who each give him something to hold closely in his head and heart to then see a clearer picture of the human spirit.
Emile Hirsch portrays Chris McCandless, a freshly graduated college student on the search of meaning with a heartwarming tale that soon grows cold as this involved character study of a film continues to roll on. Though being on the lengthy side, Sean Penn is able to give us a slow burn that keeps us warm inside for the whole adventurous experience McCandless goes through with outstanding results. Hirsch is able to give us a character who was non-fiction and step into his shoes without making it feel like it’s a biopic. Rather than an obvious, by the numbers style biopic, we are treated with respect and simply given a story about a man. He is not a musician, he’s not a scientist, he was simply a man on a journey, and that’s what we’re given.
It makes you look at nature with a far greater respect and circles back to the eras of hippies and free spirits taking in the gifts our earth has given us. Reminding us that it’s not about the money or the jobs, but the relationships we conjure on our roads less traveled, we are reminded as to what makes a life worth living. If this film doesn’t make you want to rethink your future, even a little bit, I’m not sure I believe you. Though McCandless’ real life was indeed lived through bouts of stupidity and ignorance, it doesn’t change the fact that we still feel his impact and are reminded to never take for granted the life we live. With the help of spectacular performances by Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, and Vince Vaughn you are struck with an urge to leave your ordinary life behind for the hope you can get half as much as McCandless was able to get.
The visuals and scenery are stunning and help us visualize the landscapes that paint our country — if you’re from North America — in a way that makes it almost fictional in tone. The lushness of the grasses and plains to the sheer pure white snows of mountain caps and Alaskan trails to fluidity of the great rivers, it all has a place. It’s a film about relationships and the value they carry whether good or bad and the experiences you will never forget. A testament of the adventurous nature of people and the never dying spirit we all possess and the sacrifices we choose to make for the sake of happiness and understanding.
Penn and the acting of Hirsch becomes a poignant combination in that they both choose not to make this an over the top adventure, but rather a tale about an adventure. Without the help of dragons or hobbits (though we love dragons and hobbits) we are embedded in a world that is all to real to ours with even crazier beginnings and endings. Into the Wild is poetry in motion with the visuals to match. I view it as a beautifully tragic story of self discovery and the love for the outdoors in a way that is revisited in great films like Wild which I later compared to this film, Into the Wild. It’s a great movie that is best to not be spoiled in any way. Go into the film with a lack of knowledge on this movie and the experience will be all that much richer.