Into the Wild (R)

Action/Adventure 147 October 19, 2007
By Scott Foundas
To some, the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, the 24-year-old Emory University graduate who starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness in the spring of 1992, will never be anything more than a case of a spoiled bourgeois brat with half-cocked survivalist fantasies and the inability to accept his parents as imperfect people. To others, it stirs something deeper and more primal — a feeling of wanderlust that did not die out with the conquering of the last frontiers. In adapting Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer’s 1996 best-seller about the McCandless case, writer-director Sean Penn conceives the story in road-movie terms — a new-millennium Easy Rider that opens with McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) embarking on the Alaskan pilgrimage that was to have been the final leg of an epic transcontinental adventure, then loops back to chart his two years traveling the highways and back roads of the American West. The film is blessed with a native intelligence, never tipping too far into hagiography and always doing what very few purveyors of McCandless’s story have been able or willing to do — it engages with him on his own terms. Most of all, it allows Hirsch the space
he needs to build a performance of enormous physical and psychological rigor, until we come to see McCandless as both boy and man, prophet and fraud, vagabond and visionary.
Sean Penn Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Jim Gallien Jon Krakauer, Sean Penn Sean Penn, Art Linson, Bill Pohlan Paramount Vantage