TIFF Review: Into the Wild
by Alex Billington
September 12, 2007
The quote above comes from quite close to the end of the film and although it doesn't sum up most of why Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) ventures into the Alaskan wilderness alone, it does hit the hardest. Into the Wild follows Alexander Supertramp (the name Christopher gives himself) on his adventure across the country and eventually up into Alaska to live off of the land. He starts off as a college graduate, the son of two unsuited parents, and brother of Carine (Jena Malone) who narrates the story. Based on the non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer, Alexander decides to leave home, burn all of his money and identification cards, and hitchhike his way around the US meeting new friends and growing into a man before hiking into Alaska and discovering his new home - the "magic" bus.
As much as I really wanted to love the free-spirited Into the Wild, Sean Penn is a terrible director and the story suffers from his inexperience in great direction. He's good at creating individual moments through some rather experimental "indie-film-like" work, but overall the flow of the story didn't pull together in the way it needed. The film felt fairly jagged; each move from place to place was just another chunk and did not connect smoothly in what was a beautiful story overall. Emile's often cheerful and humorous attitude, while still free-spirited and well acted, didn't fit with Penn's lack of pace and flow - like two puzzle pieces that should fit together but don't.
While the film could easily have been better, it did achieve a particular level of bliss in how well it captured Alex's passionate will to live openly with nature. His views on life were empathetically depicted and chillingly felt all while also maintaining a vast distance from a comparison to a tree-hugging, nature-loving hippie. By the end a connection to Alex is well established and it's then where most will fall in love with Into the Wild; it's then where most will smile and applaud a film that simply tells a great story.