As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Into the Wild

Posted by Hedwig on September 15, 2008

What a beautiful film. Not sure if it’s good, to be honest, but beautiful? That cannot be disputed. Sean Penn uses every trick in the box, and with them he made a film that -in principle- tells a linear story but that feels much less simple than that, much more metaphoric, poetic, maybe even transcendental.

They’re clichéd shots, from time to time: flocks of birds, impressive white mountains. But he dares to also move beyond that, showing not only the beauty of nature but also, on the one hand, that nature can be ugly and cruel, and, on the other, that man-made things can be just as beautiful if not more. There are striking shots: not just of the “magic bus”, but of the machines moving through a field, of a vast group of wind mills, of a city at night.

Words, he’s not nearly as strong with. I understand why Penn felt there was a need for a voice-over, but it often explains much more than we need to know, without really giving insight. We don’t need to know which particular events made Chris want what he wants, because a) someone else would have re-acted differently and b) something very different might’ve had the same effect on him.

I know Penn’s been accused of idealizing his protagonist. It’s true, near the end, the messianic overtones become a bit much, but overall, Penn’s camera (if not, perhaps, the added text) is surprisingly objective in all its impressionism. Chris is portrayed as charismatic, yes, and he has a certain appeal, but he’s also just a kid, and a times a scarily obsessive one.

(aside: I know, I’m about as old as Chris is in the film, so I have no real right calling him a kid. I can’t even claim to be more mature, but I don’t share his wide-eyes idealism and juvenile illusions)

It’s been 4 days since I saw Into the Wild, and I still don’t know what to think of it. I will however recommend it, especially if you have the opportunity to go see it in the cinema. This is a gorgeous film, which would make a nice double feature with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, another beautifully shot film about an obsessive young man.

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10 Responses to “Into the Wild”

  1. This, along with the equally beautiful ‘Jesse James,’ was one of my favourite films of last year. I loved it.

  2. Kaj said

    Jesse James, incidentally, also has a mostly unnecessary voice-over.

  3. sarcastig said

    Well… it was unnecessary, perhaps, but I really liked the Jesse James voice-over, and I thought it added something, not information, perhaps, but mood, and a certain literariness (is that a word?).

  4. Fedor said

    Have you seen Day of Heaven by Terrence Malick, Hedwig? When I read your high points in Into the Wild it constant reminded me of that film. Also the same eye for the beauty in nature, human artefacts, and people themselves.

  5. I think you nailed just about all of my own thoughts about this film, much of which has still lingered with me after having seen it just about exactly one year ago.

    The voice-over, and Penn’s treatment of the parents played by William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden, are the greatest hindrances to completely accepting what is largely a profoundly beautiful film.

  6. sarcastig said

    @Fedor: I have actually seen Days of Heaven, and I think it’s similar to Into the Wild in that I thought it was gorgeous, but not all that great on a narrative level. Accusing Malick of not being great narratively is pretty pointless though: he’s all about images and impressions and moods, and he’s good enough at that that it outweighs any other concerns.

    Thanks for visiting, by the way. And thanks again for your piece on Wanted, which was much more coherent and layered than my review.

    @Alexander: you’re right that the treatment of the parents is also a weakness. They ARE very well played though, Hurt and Harden do as much as they can with the material they’re given.

  7. Sam Juliano said

    I did not like INTO THE WILD at all and found it’s central character a complete turn-off, while the cinematography was strictly National Geographic, and the direction pedestrian. But I was viciously attacked at Awards Daily for having the temerity to speak out against this film last year, and now that I see that you apparently like it, not to mention two people I regard in the very highest esteem, Nick Plowman and Alexander Coleman, I know I am up shit’s creek without a paddle! LOL! Eloquent capsule here Hedwig. I did love JESSE JAMES though, and had it among the best films of the year.

  8. lol Sam, I’m sorry to report I also liked ITW, though not as much as some.

  9. Daniel said

    I had to admit that my disdain (or maybe exasperation) for Christopher McCandless caused me to enjoy this film just a little little little bit less than I otherwise would. Technically I found it amazing, like you (including the soundtrack), but overall I had the same impression I did when I read the book 10 or so years ago: why didn’t someone slap “his wide-eyes idealism and juvenile illusions” out of him at some point? I’m all for taking the road less traveled and finding yourself, etc., but have a clue, man.

    Regarding the narration, well I think part of that comes out of the fractured character of the book, which is written half in diary form. To be honest I didn’t even notice the narration until you mentioned it here; I just felt like I was reading the book as I was watching it.

    In Jesse James (and more recently in Vicky Cristina Barcelona), I thought the narration WAS important for informational purposes. Jesse James was perfectly set-up for narration: how else would we get to know so much about the background of those characters (and think about the first few minutes of VCB)? You can say what you want about the narrator’s voices being annoying, but in both of those cases I thought the information given was highly appropriate. The alternative, of course, would be to develop the characters through more and longer scenes – imagine how long THAT would have made Jesse James, which was, incidentally, my #2 of last year.

    Any love for Emile Hirsch here?

  10. bandit333 said

    Hey four days later you are still thinking about and trying to figure out the movie….it got in your head and that says something about the movie in itself!

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