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10/16/2007 - INTO THE WILD

INTO THE WILD by Tom McCurrie

America is and always has been the land of reinvention, and few movies have captured this aspect of our country as compellingly, and tragically, as INTO THE WILD.

Written and directed by Sean Penn, and based on the bestseller by Jon Krakauer, INTO THE WILD tells the true story of Chris McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch), a recent college grad who finds himself disgusted by what he sees as the hypocrisy, conformity and materialism of modern society, especially as personified in his upper middle-class parents. So, like generations of Americans before him, McCandless leaves everyone and everything he knows behind in an attempt to reinvent himself. He cuts up his driver's license and Social Security card, gives away his life savings and burns what little money he has left before renaming himself Alexander Supertramp and embarking on a rambling two-year odyssey that will take him from Atlanta, Georgia to the wilds of Alaska, where he plans to live off the land and commune with nature all by his lonesome away from society's interference and imperfections. Unfortunately, McCandless finds it much more difficult to live off the land and commune with nature than he expects, turning what he hoped would be a soul-enriching experience into a literal fight for survival against hunger, disease and the elements.

INTO THE WILD proves to be absorbing on many levels, despite its over two-and-a-half hour length. At one time or another, we've all felt as revolted as McCandless at the sorry state of society, prompting us to consider chucking it all and escaping to a place where no one could find us. This gives the plot an irresistible pull, even though McCandless' behavior can come off as rather extreme (i.e., burning his own money to cinders to symbolize his rejection of society).

Penn's direction of actors is also superb. Emile Hirsch navigates the tricky shoals of his character exceedingly well, coming across at once incredibly naive and utterly profound. But the true acting kudos should go to the legendary Hal Holbrook as Ron, a lonely war veteran who McCandless meets hitchhiking to Alaska. Holbrook gives a performance so heartfelt and poignant that it would be a crime if he didn't at least get an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

If there's a drawback with INTO THE WILD it has to do with McCandless' motivation to head for the wilderness in the first place. Supposedly his parents' hypocrisy, conformity and materialism soured McCandless on contemporary society as well as human relationships themselves, causing him to reject civilization altogether to search for something more real, pure and truthful in the Alaskan hinterland.

But other than one scene where they heatedly argue amongst themselves, the parents (played by William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) don't seem so off-putting, coming across as generally loving and responsible people. The father did hide the fact that he was married before and even has another child hidden away somewhere, but the revelation of this skeleton-in-the-closet doesn't seem like enough to provoke McCandless into cutting off ties with everyone and everything he ever knew, especially his sister with whom he seemed to have a close relationship. It might have been better, even if it meant using dramatic license, to make the parents much more odious to justify McCandless' rebellion against society.

Still, IN THE WILD's ultimate message makes up for this defect, and makes the movie truly resonate as well. By the end, the film delivers an impassioned plea - no matter how sick society gets, and no matter how despairing we get, we can't use that as an excuse to retreat from the world. We have a duty to stay and help our fellow man make that world a better place.

After meeting so many caring, loving people like Ron during his long trek to the wilderness, McCandless himself realizes this truism when, racked by loneliness and disease at his isolated Alaskan campsite, he writes one memorable sentence down in his "diary": Happiness is only real when it's shared.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is finally finishing up a really awesome novel.


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