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24.04.2012- Film Review: Into the Wild

Calling a film 'life-changing' always feels like a bit of a cliché, but it seems the perfect way to describe Into the Wild. Based on the book of the same name, the film relates the true story of Christopher McCandless, who trekked across North America after graduating from college and donating his life savings to Oxfam. Surviving on his wits, courage and willpower, and inspired by the philosophies of his favourite writers, McCandless ventured into the heart of wild America, fulfilling his wish of making it to Alaska before tragically losing his life.

Directed, produced and written by Sean Penn, the film presents McCandless's adventure in a series of non-linear flashbacks, as we jump back from his experience on the 'Magic Bus' in Alaska to the outset of his journey. Disillusioned with the materialism of life at the start of the 1990s and increasingly frustrated with his parents, he leaves his hometown of Atlanta in search of a more meaningful existence, where he can be free to appreciate the true nature of survival. In tribute to Jon Krakauer's book, the film is divided into chapters, with each section recounting the contrasting phases of McCandless's journey and illustrating the experiences which ultimately lead him to the Alaskan wilderness. Whilst the use of flashbacks is a storytelling device which takes a little while to get used to, particularly during the exposition, it is one which pays dividends in creating a palpable sense of atmosphere and pathos. We discover more and more about Christopher's rationale for leaving home as his journey unfolds, as we continue to become fully immersed in his adventure. These flashbacks also really drive home the harsh reality of surviving in the wild, as the sun-soaked exploits at the beginning of Christopher's journey are starkly juxtaposed with his struggle for survival in the unforgiving surroundings of Alaska.

Emile Hirsch's performance in the central role is nothing short of breathtaking. As well as illustrating the sheer physical transformation McCandless underwent, he also captures his idealism, youthful exuberance and charisma perfectly. Exploring the psyche of someone who wanted to put so much distance between himself and the world he knew must have proved a daunting prospect, but it's testament to the strength and honesty of Hirsch's performance that we never doubt Christopher's motivation or his methods; we simply go along on the adventure with him. The supporting cast, too, is exceptional, particularly Hal Holbrook as Ron Franz, one of the final people Christopher meets before his Alaskan isolation begins. As well as exploring the beauty of nature and man's position within the natural world, the film also depicts the series of formative encounters which punctuated McCandless's journey, and it is his final, heartbreaking exchange with Mr. Franz, a relative stranger to him, which provides the narrative with one of its most poignant and emotive moments.

Sean Penn's lightness of touch as a director also allows McCandless's story to take centre stage. Unafraid of using a subtle style, he captures on film the nuances of Hirsch's central performance, and, in companionship with Eric Gautier's breathtaking cinematography, presents a portrait of wild America which proves as irresistible to the audience as it does to the protagonist. Eddie Vedder's chilling original score also serves the film exceptionally well, creating an added level of atmosphere whilst underlining the emotional undercurrents of the piece as a whole. Throughout Christopher's moments of triumph and his experiences of despair, the audience empathises with him, willing him to survive against the often insurmountable odds which he is confronted with. Penn's sincere direction creates a level of cinematic verisimilitude unlike anything I've seen before, and it is this sense of realism which makes the conclusion of the film so heartbreaking.

Ultimately, the premise of this film is simple- it is an exploration of survival. Beyond that, however, lies the story of a truly inspirational young man, who, in abandoning all the comforts and materialistic conveniences of contemporary living, proved that life really is what you make of it, and emphatically demonstrated that nothing is impossible. Beautifully shot, powerfully performed and with a profound emotional resonance, Into the Wild is perhaps the best film I've seen to date. Inspiring and heartfelt, it's a piece which is both resonant and relevant, and which leaves the audience with food for thought long after the credits have rolled.

Have you seen Into the Wild? If so, what did you make of it?

(Image credit: Paramount Vantage.)


  1. I went through the whole 'this is the best thing ever', 'what am I doing with me life?!' and 'I hate all my stuff' phases after seeing this! Sean Penn is an angel for making it. It's definitely a favourite, I just love how much it makes you think and I love how raw it is and nothing's dressed up. Also, tell me you studied journalism at uni?! Your writing is ridiculously impressive xx

  2. I should really watch this movie! I love Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Stewart, and 'life changing' movies are always so fun to watch and very inspirational! I love your blog too by the way.

    Natalie xx


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