Friday, September 21, 2007

Into the Wild: A One Way Trip

I don't usually read movie reviews before seeing a film, accepting that a review is just that, a review, to be considered after seeing the work itself. I try to see the movie first, without prejudice or pretense. But my curiosity about Sean Penn's making of "Into the Wild" has, over the last few weeks, gotten the better of me, and I have read just about everything I've come across.

"Into the Wild" opens in limited release today and in wider release Friday the 28th. This is my (rare) before-seeing-the-movie take. I'll report again after seeing the film.

The book and perhaps the movie are the Heart of Darkness, the "Apocalypse Now" for the wilderness lover. As Capt. Willard said in Coppola's film, "Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were goin' all the way. Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin' program."

Chris McCandless got off the boat and went all the way. He split from the whole fuckin' program.

Chris McCandless, fresh-faced flake, fiend, friend, fake, fatalist, cut up his credit cards, burned, buried and gave away his cash, and got off the boat. We'd like to think he was all there, kid/man/boy to the end, choosing his destiny, but he wasn't all there, and that is what haunts us and, ironically, what makes his story so compelling to us. We want so much from people. We want even the zeros to be heroes. But Chris was no hero. Closer to zero. But he went all the way, and we wonder what that's like. Some of us always will.

Many of us idealist/nihilist wannabees ate up every word when Jon Krakuer's book came out, and, no matter what it's prejudicial beauties and cinemagesic discrepancies, we road hounds and wilderness loring hangers on will eat up every frame of the film.

There's been a lot of talk about Kerouac and On the Road this month, and Chris McCandless' journey fits into that genre of episodic, wandering, orgiastic romance, American style. Kerouac took us along for the ride. Chris took only himself. He didn't report back, but a journalist's work brought back some of the pieces. Sociable as he may seem to have been before he got to the end of the road, Chris McCandless seemed to want to be alone, perhaps caring about people butnot driven toward them. He was driven toward nature, raw, up close and personal, and so where we are going as voyeurs in this movie, there were, we must remind ourselves, no witnesses. This is about going it on the edge, then beyond the edge, then leaving all the rest of us behind and going it alone.

We are reminded how books, movies and movie reviews are, by necessity, such slapped together, superficial simplifications of the raw, uncooked truth of a thing. Still, inexorably, McCandless joins Thoreau, Kerouac, Abbey and others in my gang of road tripping/wilderness ghosts.

Those road ghosts, and why is this so compelling. Maybe a bit of James Dean meets Outward Bound or Jesse James meets hypothermia and well beyond the canned beans, a last shred of carcass. Like others who gamble with their own wits and nature, he left behind the domesticated lap dogs. But still, why? Because for most of us, our final adventure is not our greatest. For Chris McCandless, his was.


At 10/18/2007 6:37 AM, Anonymous rq said...

The idealism of youth. We all had little smatterings of it, but some of us adapted. My idealism was mostly about human relations, hypocracy in the church and racism. Just recently I've explored commercialism and the global warming issue. But then I'm a basket, not a rocket.


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