Into the Wild

I saw a screening of this movie tonight. It has the makings of a good, or certainly at least OK movie, but about an hour could have been left on the cutting room floor…

What’s good:

  • Stunning scenery and panoramic views
  • Vince Vaughn’s character is great (I’m also a Vince Vaughn fan, though, so I may be biased)
  • An Odyssey-like story includes many colorful cameos
  • The film’s website is very nicely done, and visually interesting.

What’s bad:

  • WAAAAAAAY too long
  • The main character’s drifting out of society is largely blamed on his parents, but his relationship with them doesn’t seem bad enough to warrant this.
  • Too much melodrama in the voiceovers
  • Too many scenes showing how he touched the lives of others. We got that early on, and didn’t need to have it beaten into us.
  • Not enough scenes showing people who tried to talk him out of his journey. Apparently (in the true story of Chris McCandless), that truck driver who dropped him off on his final journey tried over and over during the three hour drive to talk him out of it — knowing that he didn’t have enough gear. He even offered to drive him to Anchorage and BUY him some suitable gear.
  • While I don’t doubt that Chris McCandless was a wonderful individual, what he did wasn’t really romantic, or heroic, as it is painted in the movie. What he did was risky, and dangerous, even with enough gear, maps, compasses, and preparation.
  • Sometimes the main character looks right at the camera, in a very reality-tv-inspired way. Strikes me as weird, since he was supposed to be out in the bush, all on his own, and we’re really just supposed to be voyeurs…

I was able to get a lot of the “true story” from an article published at Outside magazine — apparently the first source to “break” the story of Chris McCandless. The author of the article then went on to write the book, Into the Wild which the film is based on.

From the Wikipedia page on Christopher McCandless:

Some Alaskans have negative views of both McCandless and those who romanticize his fate. McCandless was unaware that a hand-operated tram crossed the river a quarter mile from the Stampede Trail, while a nearby shelter was stocked with emergency supplies, as described in Krakauer’s book. Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian wrote: “I am exposed continually to what I will call the ‘McCandless Phenomenon.’ People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent … When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament … Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.”[10]

From the article published by Outside magazine:

James Gallien had driven five miles out of Fairbanks when he spotted the hitchhiker standing in the snow beside the road, thumb raised high, shivering in the gray Alaskan dawn. A rifle protruded from the young man’s pack, but he looked friendly enough; a hitchhiker with a Remington semiautomatic isn’t the sort of thing that gives motorists pause in the 49th state. Gallien steered his four-by-four onto the shoulder and told him to climb in.

The hitchhiker introduced himself as Alex. “Alex?” Gallien responded, fishing for a last name.

“Just Alex,” the young man replied, pointedly rejecting the bait. He explained that he wanted a ride as far as the edge of Denali National Park, where he intended to walk deep into the bush and “live off the land for a few months.” Alex’s backpack appeared to weigh only 25 or 30 pounds, which struck Gallien, an accomplished outdoorsman, as an improbably light load for a three-month sojourn in the backcountry, especially so early in the spring. Immediately Gallien began to wonder if he’d picked up one of those crackpots from the Lower 48 who come north to live out their ill-considered Jack London fantasies. Alaska has long been a magnet for unbalanced souls, often outfitted with little more than innocence and desire, who hope to find their footing in the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier. The bush, however, is a harsh place and cares nothing for hope or longing. More than a few such dreamers have met predictably unpleasant ends.

As they got to talking during the three-hour drive, though, Alex didn’t strike Gallien as your typical misfit. He was congenial, seemed well educated, and peppered Gallien with sensible questions about “what kind of small game lived in the country, what kind of berries he could eat, that kind of thing.”

Still, Gallien was concerned: Alex’s gear seemed excessively slight for the rugged conditions of the interior bush, which in April still lay buried under the winter snowpack. He admitted that the only food in his pack was a ten-pound bag of rice. He had no compass; the only navigational aid in his possession was a tattered road map he’d scrounged at a gas station, and when they arrived where Alex asked to be dropped off, he left the map in Gallien’s truck, along with his watch, his comb, and all his money, which amounted to 85 cents. “I don’t want to know what time it is,” Alex declared cheerfully. “I don’t want to know what day it is, or where I am. None of that matters.”

During the drive south toward the mountains, Gallien had tried repeatedly to dissuade Alex from his plan, to no avail. He even offered to drive Alex all the way to Anchorage so he could at least buy the kid some decent gear. “No, thanks anyway,” Alex replied. “I’ll be fine with what I’ve got.” When Gallien asked whether his parents or some friend knew what he was up to—anyone who could sound the alarm if he got into trouble and was overdue—Alex answered calmly that, no, nobody knew of his plans, that in fact he hadn’t spoken to his family in nearly three years. “I’m absolutely positive,” he assured Gallien, “I won’t run into anything I can’t deal with on my own.”

“There was just no talking the guy out of it,” Gallien recalls. “He was determined. He couldn’t wait to head out there and get started.” So Gallien drove Alex to the head of the Stampede Trail, an old mining track that begins ten miles west of the town of Healy, convinced him to accept a tuna melt and a pair of rubber boots to keep his feet dry, and wished him good luck. Alex pulled a camera from his backpack and asked Gallien to snap a picture of him. Then, smiling broadly, he disappeared down the snow-covered trail. The date was Tuesday, April 28, 1992.

Overall, the film is beautiful, tragic, and way too long. I suppose nobody was able to tell Sean Penn to edit it down…


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