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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opening date: 10/19/2007
Reviewed by Diane Carson

In Alaska, not far from Fairbanks, April 1992, Christopher Johnson McCandless walked "into the wild" elated, as he wrote in his journal. His adventure, however, came to a tragic conclusion 113 days later when he succumbed to starvation, probably having misidentified a poisonous plant for an edible one, his emaciated body incapable of overcoming the toxins. But Chris' journey began two years earlier. After his graduation from Emory University, Chris wrote a check to Oxfam for his entire savings and headed West. For even with grades good enough to qualify for Harvard Law School, Chris rejected materialism, searching for his authenticity, renaming himself Alexander Supertramp. Amazingly diverse encounters across the U.S. over the next months make up the heart of Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild and director Sean Penn's adaptation of it. Penn wrote the screenplay, in addition to shooting some of this powerful, poetic film.

 

Penn first became enamored of Krakauer's book when the arresting photograph of Chris' bus grabbed his attention. Like many of us who discovered this book in 1996 when it came out, Penn couldn't put it down. Now, over 10 years later, with the cooperation of the McCandless family, Into the Wild captures Chris' dangerous determination to get to Alaska, to define his own path. "Things," he said, "make you cautious." And so he foreswore them.

We're caught up in his dream through the wondrous performance of Emile Hirsch who did all his own stunts and lost 40 pounds to portray accurately Chris' physical change. Equally impressive is Hal Holbrook as a compassionate stranger coping with tragedy of his own. Shot on location, from kayaking on the Colorado River to South Dakota's wheat fields where Chris worked at harvest time, from Slab City to Los Angeles and Seattle, Alex Supertramp embarked on an aesthetic journey, searching, in his words, for "raw transcendent experience." Penn takes two hours and 20 minutes to flesh out the story but it moves well, helped along by the music of Eddie Vedder. Some scenes are breathtakingly beautiful-on the Colorado, on the northern plains, at the ocean, watching birds fly and waves crash. Penn said at the Telluride Film Festival where I first saw the film that Chris' longing speaks to you or it doesn't. Chris' idealism does evoke my own and Penn presents it with love and with a full appreciation for the struggle to travel Into the Wild. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac cinema.

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