Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is, as Roger Ebert puts it, “spellbinding”. Combining an incredible performance by Emile Hersch with great music, side performances and directing, Into the Wild is a powerful film which should be treasured.
In 1990, Christopher McCandless graduated from EmoryUniversity. He donated all of his money ($25,000) to Oxfam and he left his family and friends in search of adventure and experience. He cut himself off from his family, after his troubled childhood he needed an escape. Christopher headed across the country to experience life like he never had before, to escape from the world of superficial existence and 20th century social constraints. To feel strong. As Christopher says, “The freedom and simple beauty is too good to pass up...”
In Sean Penn’s film adaptation, Emile Hersch stars as McCandless. As an audience, we follow Chris as he ventures from his home in Virginia to the Mojave Desert, South Dakota and finally, Alaska. In Alaska, Chris goes off into the wild to live all by himself with nothing more than 10 pounds of rice, a .22 caliber rifle, ammunition, a camera, and a small selection of books on the flora and fauna. Christopher survived for over 100 days alone in the wilderness before passing away in August 1992.
Into the Wild is an extremely powerful film. The soundtrack is composed primarily of powerful acoustic tracks performed by Eddie Vedder. The music appropriately sets the tone for the film. The movie is like a roller coaster, you feel great as Chris kayaks in Arizona or when he meets helpful travelers. However, there is always the feeling that he is missing something. He left a life which was horrible for him, as we see through flashbacks, yet he is now all alone and we are left to judge whether isolation is a better way out.
Emile Hersch is great as Christopher McCandless. He delves into the character deeply enough that all of his lines, all of his actions, seem to show what we expect Chris to have really been like. The filmmakers are cautious of course, to be respectful to Chris and his family as they set out to make a realistic take on his experience. Overall, Into the Wild is just a really good movie. Due to Hersch's performance and Sean Penn's direction which utilizes both the subtlety and attention of a passionate artist, Into the Wild’s powerful story will certainly please viewers.