Into the Wild review

Christian Gays Forums Movie Reviews Into the Wild review

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    Excellent review Tom!  Thanks!

  • #29227


    FILM REVIEW: “Into the Wild”
    By Tom Brown (Caution: This essay contains plot spoilers)

    What if the Prodigal Son never went home again, but instead just walked into a wilderness and vanished?

    That question occurred to me a few days after watching “Into the Wild,” the true story of Chris McCandless, an Emory University student who turns his back on his family and a career to wander into the rugged beauty of the West. Immediately after graduation in 1991, Chris empties his savings account and gives $25,000 to charity. Nearly penniless, he then embarks on a 20-month solo road trip that ultimately ends with his starvation in the Alaskan wilderness. Director Sean Penn tells the story in a gripping but exhausting 2.5-hour film. It’s based on the best-seller that author Jon Krakauer wrote 20 years ago, but still is widely used in high school and college literature courses.

    The film can be understood on several levels. At the most superficial, it’s a beautiful travelogue showing the majestic deserts, mountains and rivers of the West, from Big Sur up to the Denali Park in Alaska. But as the film confusingly cuts back and forth from Chris’s youth to his arrival in Alaska, we gradually realize Chris, played by Emile Hirsch, is more than just a likeable, footloose kid. We come to understand his cross-country journey was an escape from abusive parents, not just a lark to see the sights. (His sister Carine wrote a follow-up book in 2013 that emphasizes this interpretation, giving much more detail about their cruel father than the film provides.)

    Chris makes several friends along the way as he works odd jobs and hitchhikes from one vagabond camp to another. His new pals all take a liking to him, but Chris avoids any commitment. Especially memorable are his scenes with an elderly widower, Ron, played by Hal Holbrook. The lonely oldtimer hesitantly offers to adopt Chris, a deal that would give Chris a nice house in the California desert and potentially a true father-son relationship. But Chris insists on moving on.

    Chris finally reaches Alaska and his struggle with harsh, unforgiving Nature begins in earnest. Too late, he realizes his supplies are too meager, game is too scarce, and a last-resort attempt to survive on roots and berries gives him food poisoning. A flooded river blocks his attempt to reach a settlement, so he walks back to his shelter, an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere. As he zips himself into a sleeping bag to await the end, he hallucinates about a happy reunion with his parents. And he manages to scrawl a final message suggesting his pursuit of solitude was a dreadful mistake. “Real happiness must be shared,” he states in his stark farewell. Moose hunters find his body two weeks later.

    Sadly, in the ten years since the film’s release, hundreds of other young people, dazzled by Chris’s story, have trekked into Alaska to make pilgrimages to his campsite. Some have been just as unprepared as Chris, and park rangers report at least three have died along the way. Perhaps an epilogue needs to be added to this movie, urging kids who are estranged from their families to go back home and give it one more try. Too bad Chris didn’t grasp these words from old man Ron: “I want to tell you something. From bits and pieces of what you have told me about your family, your mother and your dad … And I know you have problems with the church too … But there is some kind of bigger thing that we can all appreciate and it sounds to me you don’t mind calling it God. But when you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines through you.”

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