Into The Wild (2007, Sean Penn)

Dude who looks an awful lot like Leo Dicaprio and will soon star in Speed Racer plays Chris, who abandons his rich dysfunctional family (Marcia Gay Harden: Tim Robbins’ wife in Mystic River, William Hurt: the killer brother in A History of Violence, Jena Malone: Donnie Darko‘s girlfriend) and heads into the wild. Along the way he makes himself a new family, two hippie parents (some dude and Catherine Keener), grandfather Hal Holbrook (star of Creepshow: The Crate), and a sister (the girl from Panic Room). Then he lets them all down by failing to eat properly out in the Alaskan wilderness.

An emotional movie, full of warmth and humanity, but not enough of either for our main character who leaves it all behind to pursue his Alaskan dream. According to the movie/diary he hoped/intended to return before he was sidelined by an impassible river and some poisonous veggies.

Movie walks the line between putting Chris forth as a hero, a role model, a visionary who got a few details wrong vs. a deluded kid whose family drove him to self-destruction, maybe slanted towards the latter. Some quick editing, lots of askew close-ups, foreground in a corner of the frame with something blurry happening in the large looming distance. A strange, interesting look to the movie with artistic intentions to be sure. An ambitious picture, almost all successful. I liked it a lot, but I have to say Grizzly Man still has the edge.

ADDENDUM: thanks to the Golden Globe award nominations, I am now remembering to mention that the Eddie Vedder songs were distracting.

My new hero Nathan Lee of Slate on this movie:

I immediately and powerfully sympathized with the questing hero — I, too, am a privileged young man undergoing an existential crisis! — but as his quest went on (and on and on and on and on), I found myself less and less invested. The trajectory of the movie proved emotionally frustrating but ethically acute: My gradual alienation from the “hero,” our ostensible audience surrogate, was replaced by empathy with all those marvelous supporting characters he encounters on his journey, a set of alternative families he briefly joins then abandons. Into the Wild is a conventional treatment of the same theme contemplated through kaleidoscope in I’m Not There. Both movies celebrate the thrill of personal reinvention while simultaneously attending to the spiritual toll of perpetual escape. Neither film is hagiographic; neither odyssey ends up feeling very heroic. If I’m Not There packed the greater wallop for me, it’s probably because I connect on a deeper intellectual and emotional level to Haynes’ mega-meta technique than Penn’s nostalgic naturalism.

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