Friday, September 14, 2007

I Now Walk Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch as McCandless hitching a ride. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.

Into the Wild is an amazing piece of journalism, both the article and the novel. Krakauer knows how to investigate and report in a thrilling, spellbinding way.

Granted, the story is set up perfectly for him: a
young newly graduated 22 year old man cut off all ties with his family and with anything else that could potentially tie him down to the kind of humdrum life that he was utterly afraid of (my opinion) and set off to traverse across America, making money only when neccessary to further his travels by way of purchasing equipment and this all led to his ultimate goal: Alaska, going to and truly being in and with Alaska, where he was later found dead.

Krakauer has an eye for interesting stories.

Now, it appears Sean Penn has the same kind of eye Krakauer does. After finding and reading about McCandless' life, Penn decided to
write and direct a film based on Krakauer's novel, coming out September 21st.

Now, I was iffy about the movie because of Penn. While being an amazing actor (as seen in I Am Sam and Mystic River), he struck me as sort of crazy, but this might be due to my obsession with celebrity gossip. Nevertheless, I was
worried as to what he would do with the film. After watching it, I am still mixed.

On the whole, I really liked (I can't bring myself t
o say I loved it) the moviethe cinematography was simply splendid—the expanse of the Californian and Nevadan deserts or the range of mountains flanking McCandless' walks in Alaska or the gushing Colorado River where McCandless' illegally kayaked (I have a thing for that). These scenes were set up beautifully.

Kayaking down the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.

Emile Hirsch (who I've only seen in The Girl Next Door, so yeah...) became the embodiment of McCandless fully, with his desire to connect to the natural world and get away from everything materialistic, his naively reckless nature (i.e. parking in a flash flood zone) and just his heart. And, at the same time, Hirsch exhibited McCandless' unknowingly cold-heartedness, as seen in the scene with Ron (Hal Holbrook) who asked McCandless if he could adopt him as his grandchild. McCandless pauses and simply replies, "Ron, can we talk about this when I get back?" That really says it all.

Through seeing Hirsch as McCandless in h
is element, trolloping through the wild with his crazy hair and beard sticking up everywhere and making do with whatever he has available to himself, i.e. creating a showering can in Alaska, we as the viewers could feel his pure joy and you could almost feel free ourselves. It is inspiring.

At the end, Hirsch becomes that desperate, change
d man who wants so much more than just dying in that Fairbank bus by himself because of a stupid mistake.

So, that's mostly the praise.

Now, at first, I enjoyed the opening creditsMcCandless' words by way of letters are superimposed over glimplses of his life in Alaska (without really seeing McCandless' visage at first, which is a nice touch) accompanied simply with music and no narration at all. It gives us the setup in an absorable manner.

What gets annoying is when Penn employs the yellow handwritten lettering throughout the movie. There is no r
eason to do so and it detracts from its first usage.

And, this is sort of a minor thing to complain about, but being the girl who notices fonts and styles and all that, I think Penn cou
ld have done a better job with fonts throughout the movie. That fat, serif font with black borders doesn't fit in with the vibe of the movie. What would've been better in the thin, sans serif font used on the book jacket.

Then, there is the narration. We hear
McCandless' voice, both in the present of his experiences and through his letters and words. There are nice moments where there are simply no sounds and all we have in front of us is McCandless himself. Penn, however, decides that there should be more voices to this story of a lone wanderer and uses McCandless' sister, Carine (Jena Malone) to depict a wholly other side of McCandless' story. While the sentiment is commendable (wanting to portray a more three-dimensional perspective as to who McCandless' was), Carine's voice was too dramatic. It would have been better if we were simply given McCandless story though the man himself and it was through his interactions with secondary characters that we see what it was Rainy, Jan, Ron and everyone else saw in him.

That would have been more subtle.

It is through Carine's narration that we learn about McCandless' home life. Although it's been a year since I've read the book, I honestly don't believe that we truly knew how much his parents' relationship shaped who McCandless was. The movie depicted a much more volatile situation than really was known. Too much screen time was wasted on this.

Urban camping in California. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.

Directors get to play with the medium of film, but I think Penn tried too hard to utilize what he thought were interesting camera angles and film effects/techniques. Seeing McCandless walk through the snowy tundra in slow-motion as the soft sunlight casts his figure out of focus is impressive once, but seeing him embrace his shower against the sun is unnecessary.

And that one shot of the truck passing by over the camera that you know is lying on its side on the road? Yeah.

During his time alone, we are given McCandless in the whole. There were times where he'd sing or talk to himself (i.e. to the apple "of his eye") which were great. Talking to yourself when you're by yourself makes complete sense and sort of humanizes the entire endeavor a bit more. What got irritating was when McCandless looked directly into the camera, as if he had a secret to share with you.

Then, there is the death scene
I think it it could have been done more simply in a way that was more fitting to McCandless instead of quick flashes of the blinding white sunlight, McCandless' sunken, pale face and the random, deep scream. Penn, however, did an excellent job shooting the sickly McCandless staggering through his trailer with the camera unfocused on his barely-there body.

Chris McCandless, the 23 year old man, in a way, inspired the creation of what I like to think of as the new Nadia. I wrote about the book in an essay for my senior work about my first solo venture across the continent. Though my trip was hardly comparable to McCandless' amazing treks, it was sort of done in the same vein. And it because of this, I am disappointed because the film didn't amaze me as much as it could have potentially.

Writing by the beach. Photo courtesy of River Road Entertainment.


P said...

You too have an eye Missy :) I am using the film for a film study int with my year 11's. Fantastic work!

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