Into The Wild

12 Aug

Into The Wild – written and directed by Sean Penn. Outdoor Docudrama. 148 minutes Color 2007.


The Story: Christophe McCandless bums around America with an obsession to live in the Alaska wilderness, then does it, and immediately dies.


Here’s a film one wonders why it was ever made. It is the story of a young man who goes off into the wilderness, with no experience of wilderness survival and starves to death after 100 days. Supposedly he is in search of freedom. But the film gives one no sense of his freedom.

The only thing that has freedom is the camera filming him, which is free all over the place, free to intrude, free to do slow motion, free to show pretty flowers and spectacular scenery, free to indulge in fancy shots from angles defying probable documentation, a camera so free it keeps everything it dances around at a distance, as though the camera itself were the subject not the young man. It is a matter of directorial freedom demoting to mere license.

The one characteristic we are told McCandless possesses is immoderation. That is a quality certainly at variance with the horse-sense needed to survive in the wild. Nor is the idea of going off into the woods to live free an immoderate notion; it is a conventional notion, since it is the only notion possible to a conventional mind, which he had. Our suspicions are not disappointed when he modestly changes his name to Alexander, short, no doubt, for the The Great – King Of Macedonia And Ruler Of The Known World.

For a year or so, what he does to prepare himself for this adventure is to hitchhike round North America, ride box cars, take up with passersby on the road, and grab jobs when he can, all to earn the money that he requires and despises to make his Alaska trip possible. The Alaska trip is his idée fixe. But he remains no further than 20 miles at any time from the nearest gas station, always camping with people, never alone. In short, what he does to prepare himself for this survival adventure in the wilds is absolutely nothing.

Nothing but indulged his puerile prejudices. Nothing but act on absolutist opinions of negation, abstention, deprivation. Nothing but read Tolstoi whose only step towards living a simple life on his estate was to wear a peasant blouse. If anyone thinks Walden Pond was living in the wild, they better have another think coming.

The earmark of such a person is usually a want of a sense of humor – and we certainly find none here. It’s disastrous, because it indicates a want of flexibility and self-awareness. Without it, all sympathy for this rash sap is lost.

The self-indulgent elaborations of the camera lose it for us first. They keep us at bay. And the actor Emile Hirsch, who plays McCandless, is a young man of unoriginal temperament, so, as a dedicated extremist, he can’t take us anywhere, unlike Catherine Keener, an actress of cool temperament but with a big heart, who takes us, or at least allows us to follow her wherever she might wish us to go. She’s also a lot of fun, which he isn’t.

The directorial fallacy in the film is the highly commercial one that avers that films with little dialogue will, as Silent Films used to do, command great box office from international audiences who do not speak English. The camera is also now intended to do the job that dramatic dialogue is unnecessary for. Of course, this wipes out human depth. For film is celluloid, a two-dimensional medium. Only the participation of an audience’s imagination, not supplied by camera imagination, gives film depth. Cameras do not tell stories. They record stories; they themselves create contexts for narratives of human life created by other means.



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Posted in Catherine Keener, SURVIVAL DRAMA

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