Friday, February 15, 2008


Cast: Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Jena Malone, Vince Vaughn
Director: Sean Penn
Runtime: 148 min.
Rating: ***** (Masterpiece)
Genre: Drama, Biopic

Christopher J. McCandless, at the age of 23, and straight As in graduation had $24,000 as his life savings. And a Harvard Law seat beckoning him. He donated all of it, packed his bags, didn’t say a word about it to anybody and off he went, to conquer the wild. Inspired by Jack London, Thoreau and Tolstoy, it was the raw truth of nature that inspired him, rather than the love, the money, the fame and the fairness of life. He was a kid, a bright kid, an idealist disillusioned by the relationship his parents shared. He destroyed his identification, and named himself Alexander Supertramp, and introduced himself to anybody he met as Alex. A boy from East Coast, Virginia, and he had only one thing on his mind – to experience the wilderness of his great Alaska Odyssey. You could say he had one another thing – to somehow live his life again, and to get rid of all its lies that had thrust himself upon him. He traveled the length and breadth of America, always close to nature, always feeling strong than being strong. When they found him lying in this bus, in the middle of the Alaskan wild, the reason of his death was starvation on account of eating inedible seeds of the wild potato. On his goodbye note, he had signed himself Christopher J. McCandless.
Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian considered McCandless in his own words stupid, tragic and inconsiderate since he wasn’t exactly well-versed with the unforgiving ways of the wild. Essentially committed suicide, is what he added. One could call him a brat, and a spoilt one at that, and life could well be interpreted as a slow-suicide. Indeed, he did have his own share of problems. Indeed he was no hero. But as Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace, and as McCandless believed – “If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.” McCandless went into the wild for a reason he knew best, and I would like to believe what he experienced surpassed those reasons. Into the Wild will leave an indelible, haunting impression of those experiences, and I’m sure whenever it is you see this film, you wouldn’t want to part with them in a hurry.
I have to admit, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to review it through words. I’m exhilarated beyond them. And overwhelmed. I’m listening to Eddie Vedder’s Hard Sun, used to devastating effect here. Yet, this is the mood in which I want to share it with you. I hope not to infect you with what I’ve experienced. I will just tread along the crust of it, and hope you rather discover the joy of it for yourself.
The film is directed by Sean Penn, a very principled man himself, and he has been pursuing the approval of the family for over ten years. I understand how it means so much to him, this life of Christopher McCandless. He’s the screenwriter here too, and part of the reason this film is so great because Penn doesn’t get down to making a biopic out of McCandless’ life, and glorify him. This film is about that spirit within all of us, it is about the life of Alexander Supertramp whom we experience, sometimes within ourselves, everyday, and Penn must have realized that. Had it been just McCandless, it would have reduced to one of those man versus nature dramas. Here, it is man in the nature, with the nature and more importantly man versus himself. And then gradually, man with himself, for himself. The subject, and the treatment deserve nothing short of an epic, and that is precisely what Penn delivers.
People whom McCandless met on his odyssey are introduced to us and how they are affected by this free-spirit. They include a hippie couple, a bunch of wheat farmers, a young Danish couple, and an old man slogging it along. These are some of the best performances of this year here, and especially of Catherine Keener. There’s Hal Holbrook, who just plain breaks your heart. There’s something haunting about Hirsch here, his wide-eyed arrogance. We never truly love him, but we understand him, or at least we think we understand him. He does wrestle through a lot of physical challenges to meet his character, but the triumph lies in the way he creates an individual out of it, never letting us know the true inside but leading us to believe what we saw was the truth. It probably was, and we might never know.
Here is a man who believes that the joys and experiences of life are placed in everything, and not just in human relationships. The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences, he believed. And then, at the end of it all, he scribbles to himself – happiness is real only when shared. I probably don’t want to believe in that, but I realize better than most what great happiness sharing the joy brings. To have your feelings reflected in the words, in the eyes of others. In that same breath, I implore to you – you owe it to yourself and that spirit inside of you to see this beauty. The heir to the throne of Easyrider has finally arrived, breathtakingly shot, devastatingly told, and with lots of heart.


Anonymous said...

I had a privilege of watching this movie on the first day of its release. It coaxes you to sympathize with the protagonist’s condition during the adversity but also lets you relish the unadulterated freedom vicariously . This movie makes you look inward and ask yourself , are you what you always intended to be ? I am sure in most cases , the answer is No.

One of the best movies I have ever seen in my life. Great review Satish !! Applause.

- Manish Ballal

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

There's a movie called"Romulus, my father" based on a book by Raimond Gaita.Despite having a top-notch cast(Eric Bana, Franka Potente), it has less than a thousand voters on IMDB. This movie deserves tobe watched. This movie must be at least seen, I thought.So, please watch it yourself and see if you like it.Meantime, I will watch Into the Wild....

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

watched No Country For Old Men today.Two things:
1. I appreciated the audacity of the Coens to make this movie.Only they can make such a movie.
2. I wonder about the psyche of Ed Ton Bell.He is intriguing. He reminded me of mysterious Stalker in Stalker...a person who can't quit(even if he wants he feels consumed by something, crime in this case)but incapable of doing it either.I would have liked if Coens would have put more light on him and what's going inside that tired soul....
The ending here, I heard, made way to the sequel of this novel.Coens should buy the rights of the novel fast.
I wonder why the movie is called No Country....that freaking country isn't for men of any age.

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

patrick said...

McCandless's story is tragic, but then so many people have benefited from hearing it... a couple of years of hitchhiking led to his story challenging thousands (millions?) of people to reexamine their lives

Gaurav Parab said...

Saw the movie recently, Yes it's a masterpeice.

I think there is a bit of Super Tramp begging to come out in all of us.

We are just not strong enough.

What a magnificient life, what a super movie.

Trippman said...

What a film this was. It felt like a Peter Jackson escapism-entertaiment epic all the way through. I do wish Penn included a few more of Chris's screw-ups though

Anonymous said...

I was so inspired by this movie and it made enough sense to full fill a dream I've had for a very long time so I did it.
I put a camper on my truck and hit the road from Anna Tx. to the Grand Canyon. I did bring my wallet and credit card and no I didn't change my name but what an adventurous experience it was for me. But many great people along the way and really soaked in the freedom of my spirit.
I think everyone should enjoy God's creation and the USA freedom.
Cool movie.

man in the iron mask said...

Jesse, I WILL follow suit. I WILL pack my bags and travel. Enough of these financial reasons that I constrain myself with.
Freedom IS the word. Nothing else matters.

And I hope you write somewhere about your trip. And if you wish to share it, which I hope you would, please do let me know.