After most students graduate, they continue their education or start to work a full-time job. This is not the case for Chris McCandless, a star student who has both the money and integrity to attend Harvard Law School after his graduation. Instead, McCandless decides to donate the $24,000 remaining in his college fund to a charity, burn all his identification and set off west from Georgia, where he graduated from Emory University.
Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn, chronicles Chris’ cross-country trip. Based on a true story, this uniquely layered movie is fascinating and runs the audience through every emotion. The film is also a visually stunning portrayal of the captivating beauty of the untamed wilderness.
After Chris (Emile Hirsch of The Girl Next Door) donates his money, he leaves town without telling his parents and sister where he’s going. Chris’ parents, Wally (William Hurt) and Billie McCandless (Marcia Gay Harden) lead a superficial life filled with lies. Chris leaves this cheap everyday life behind and assumes a new name: Alexander Supertramp.
Alex/Chris hitchhikes across the country, living on the edge of society. He encounters others living on the outskirts of accepted culture, who eventually form deep friendships with him. Two hippies, a farmer and a retired veteran try to help Chris make peace with himself and his parents. However, Chris keeps moving toward what he considers life’s biggest adventure: Alaska.
One of the main points of this film is the effect that other people have on Chris. Hirsch does an outstanding job primarily because he relates so well to the other characters. Their conversations seem so intimate that it’s almost invasive. Also, his character’s connection with the wild is flawless. In one scene, he must overcome his fear of water, so he takes a kayak to a dangerous river filled with rapids. Hirsch captures the audience’s attention with his ability to portray emotions clearly.
Another standout performance is from the wild itself. The country and untamed wilderness that Chris encounters shape him. Nature is the only element to actually drive Chris to action.
This film stands out for two main reasons. First, it is based on a non-fiction book of the same title that chronicles Chris’ experiences in the wilderness. The story is unforgettable because a man actually went through what is being portrayed on the screen. Although the majority of students would never give up everything they own to sleep under trees at night, it makes the audience wonder: What would that kind of freedom be like?
The movie also has a unique time sequence. Two different narrators tell the story at three different times during Alex/Chris’ life. Chris himself narrates two of the time sequences. He tells his story as a flashback, starting after he graduates from college (what he calls his rebirth).
It is therefore up to his sister, Carine McCandless (Jena Malone) to tell the story before his rebirth. Carine shows the audience what happens to the McCandless family after Chris’ disappearance. She also elaborates on why her brother is so angry with his family, which helps the viewer understand his motives.
Into the Wild is a movie for people who love the outdoors, but it is also for those who are interested in a person’s search for the ultimate adventure.