Into the Wild: movie review (& more)

This is in two parts: first, a quick and dirty movie review. Second, a short essay on the book, the film (trailer), and the mythology of Chris McCannless.

Movie Review: Recommended. High appeal for anyone interested in self-exploration, nature, the limits of freedom, and the idea of philosophical integrity (do you actually do what you believe in?). It’s based on a true story of a young man who leaves his upper-middle class family behind to adventure in the American West. There is some brilliant storytelling and adventure and the performances are excellent (Emile Hursch is great as Chris). However, the pacing runs into trouble, with long and forced narrative points and occasional over-stylized editing. If if you’re interested in the above themes, you’ll like the film anyway, but if you hate Thoreau and can’t stand nature, then stay away: you’ll be throwing your popcorn at the screen. There is a excellent film in here, but it does sit interspersed with 25 minutes of oddly paced material (I have a similar criticism of the otherwise excellent book) and your tolerance for it will hinge on your interest in the themes.

Essay: (No spoilers here, but what i say might not make sense if you’ve never read the book nor saw the film). I read the book Into the Wild years ago and loved it. After I saw the film last week I was so confused as to what was in the book, and what was created for the movie that I went back and read the book a 2nd time. What I found there surprised me: many of the seemingly cheezy plot points, his relationships with the young girl and the old man, are actually in the book.

The book is philosophically important – I’m prone to rejecting the status quo and share many of the ideals, or at least the questions, that McCandless had. The story stuck with me for years and seeing the film doubled it’s power. I fully admire the guts it took to walk away from everything and start over (giving away all my possessions is something I’d like to do), but at the same time I’m repulsed by the cruelty involved in walking away from his family, and especially his sister. Does independence demand hurting people? Can you be half-way independent, or as McCandless believed, is it an all or nothing proposition? The story has been a forcing function for me, looking back at my decisions to leave places, people and things, to see what damage I caused in the name of ideals.

The film and the book differ on one major perspective: The film lionizes McCandless, something hard to prevent since he’s the main character of the film. Watching him take pleasures from life most wish they could find makes him charismatic despite what he had to sacrifice to get them. But the book is merely sympathetic to the lead in a cautionary tale, and goes out if its way to analyze and dissect his decisions, showing the possibility, in retrospect, of achieving his ideals without sacrificing sanity. And that’s where the story has its power: I feel compelled to re-evaluate the bar on my ideals, and the all too easy habits I’ve developed have for resisting them. McCandless’s story, in whatever form it’s told, can’t help but force people to consider the gap between their behavior and their ideals, since without a penny to his name, he lived, for a time, exactly how he wanted.

5 Responses to “Into the Wild: movie review (& more)”

  1. Nikolay


    Thanks for the theme. It’s opened to me a great movie. Haven’t ever read the book, but the movie is impressive.

    What I was amazed, that so much time passed and with all this modern IT stuffs, we have a feeling that we are living in another world now, but the problems of self-exporation and findings of freedom are the same.

  2. subhasish christche

    ..real freedom lies in wildness, not in civilization”

    ___ charles lindbergh

    this is the synopsis of this movie. though i am not a sean penn fan, but this time he came up with a surprise. its a biographical film based on the wild days of chris mccandles life.
    what a young boy do when he just got graduated from college. definitely he starts his career,join a firm or company,make money for a well shaped life,marry a girl to lead a life of typical social human being.
    but our hero never done that. he wished to lost in the wildness from his early days of school. his parents pathetic relation may be one of the reason which drives him crazy to escape from this mean world where people live having hatred or anger even for their own people.
    there are people who may criticize mccandle’s life as madness, there are people who dislikes him describing his adventures as foolishness. may be i would also be one of them if i just read a book on him or see a documentary. but this movie is a birds eye. i felt the real freedom is really losing yourself in the wildness. this movie shows how far can a man go to catch the freedom to purify his soul. a must watch for every sensible human being.

  3. Thomas

    I love survival-type films and stories. My favorite Louis L’Amour novel is Lonesome Gods, which features a man’s trek across the desert. Science-fiction or real life, I always love struggles for survival — from a distance. That’s what attracted me to this movie.

    1. Scott Berkun

      I like these types of books and films too. Do you have a list of favorites?



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