Monday, November 19, 2007

Into the Wild (2007)

I know this blog seems to be evolving into a collection of movie reviews lately, but I have to talk about this movie. I saw this movie at the theater last night and afterwards, I couldn't sleep most of the night. The movie made me feel so much and I found myself constantly awakaing to these "mini revelations" about my life and even revelations about my awaking in the night with these pangs of self-awareness. It has me shaken to the very core.

From the movie wesbite: "Freshly graduated from college with a promising future ahead, 22 year-old Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) instead walked out of his privileged life and into the wild in search of adventure. What happened to him on the way transformed this young wanderer into an enduring symbol for countless people. Was Christopher McCandless a heroic adventurer or a naive idealist, a rebellious 1990s Thoreau or another lost American son, a fearless risk-taker or a tragic figure who wrestled with the precious balance between man and nature?"

Sean Penn brilliantly directs this film and the Eddie Vedder soundtrack makes the movie even more powerful. The acting is authentic and moving. Hirsch is outstanding and looks much like the photo of the real Christopher McCandless. Hirsch embodies this beautiful optimism but quiet wisdom. Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keneer and Brian Dierker also play great parts in the movie. If you do want to see this movie and want to see it as I did, without knowledge of deeper themes, etc., don't read the rest of this post as it may SPOIL the movie for you to a degree. Although I did know the general plot and ending, the themes proved the most powerful and may be better if not explored until after viewing.

I will venture to boldly say that Into the Wild is the most powerful movie I've ever seen. It has me so shaken to the core about living a meaningful life, seeking out authentic experiences, forgiveness, and the intersection of lives. How we can feel so utterly wronged and closed to the people closest to us but become an amazing source of inspiration for a stranger who crosses our path? McCandless is so enlightened and yet so open to all he experiences and feels. He does not judge or presume to know everything but in that very act of surrendering himself to an authentic life, his englightenment shines. He abandons social notions of happiness: giving away the $24k he saved in college to charity, burning his money on the road and only working odd jobs here and there to eat and sleep, but never keeping extra money.

McCandless is not whole, however. He is not (and is not portrayed as) this totally enlightened and complete being who ventures off to isolation because he is complete. He is soul searching and in seemingly, the most pure way. He harbors much resentment for his parents and upbringing, an unforgivingness that is challenged throughout the movie and a huge part of his self-awareness and transformation. Although he sets out holding firm to the idea that human relationships should not be a fundamentally fulfilling aspect of life, his experiences with those he meets on his journey prove him wrong. Altough he knows that this journey of self-awareness must be taken on primarily alone, he comes to appreciate that relationships are integral. It is in his isolation in the wild of Alaska (and the final moments of his life), that he comes to fully embrace that happiness is only possible when shared, his final revelation that he writes in his copy of Dr. Zhivago.

Along this basic and powerfully moving theme of self discovery and enlightenment, the movie is full of symbols and an ever present juxtaposition of city and country/wilderness, which often bleeds into the juxtaposition of convention and freedom. All these themes merge fludidly and engage one's deepest notions about happiness and what it truly means to live versus exist, to look inward and grow. As I watched the movie, I couldn't help but feel that despite the fact that we now live longer and longer lives, we seem to live much less of a life. This movie brings forward the reality that so many of us deeply guard our fears and avoid confronting them. And what kind of living is that? McCandless admits to a hippie who befriends him that he has always been afraid of water (a fear I share). So, he goes running into the ocean and the rest of the movie is filled with McCandless confronting the water (including a trip down the rapids of the Colorado River). However, even his heroism is made real by the limitations water poses later in the movie.

But the movie makes clear that despite our bold acknowledgement of some fears, our deepest held fears are so often obscure to us. McCandless (who abandons his real identity throughout his journey, referring to himself as Alex Supertramp instead) is not fully aware of the great fear he harbors where forgiving his parents is concerned. It is only because of the relationships forged on the road and the way these people challenge him (just as much as he challenges them), that he becomes engaged in confronting them alone in the Alaska wilderness. And so, identity too proves an integral theme. It is that fundamental notion that we must first lose ourselves to find ourselves.

There are so many other great elements to this movie, too. The scenery, Penn's amazing directing, the punctuation of experience by McCandless's literary references. Again, I don't think I've ever felt so much from a movie. It is truly beautiful and moving. It inspires me to a depth I may have never known before.


Richard said...

It is your blog, you can post whatever you like.

I suppose you are into a part of your life were such tales resonate with you. I know that a few years back, I found resonance with movies that talked about living your dreams (like "Shark Boy and Lava Girl" or "Madagascar" - it should be obvious I've got kids from this list).

I am being recommended Lions for Lambs. My friend said it was the first time in a long time she found a movie too short. I am told it is about finding your voice and role in society.

b said...

richard...i am certainly in a phase of life in which such stories move me but also think that the movie resonates because it speaks to my soul and people with like minded outlook on life. that is why it is hard for me to recommend movies or books. as much as i love them and get so much from them, i've come to realize that another person likely will not see what i do. there's a great beauty and a slight tragedy in that.

you'll have to tell me what you think of lions for lambs. i think i've heard it mentioned but do not know much about the premise, aside from what you say here. although recommending movies can be tricky, in the case of broken english and other movies, i've been very happy for the recommendation, as i'd otherwise likely have passed the movie by.

Richard said...

It is always a bit disappointing when something you recommend does not have the same impact on another person. There is no question that everyone is moved differently (or at least differently from me).

I only mentioned Lions for Lambs because it was mentioned to me. My initial reaction (reading the plot) was that it was another anti-war movie and not of interest to me. My friend insisted that it is not quite what I think. Perhaps she is right - don't know if I will see it yet.

b said... can be disappointing and i used to be much more emphatic about it. there have been several occasions in which i gave a close friend or love a book that was really enlightening to me. and i was so genuinely excited to share that book with them. but i have grown to appreciate that we all find inspiration in various places and definitely not the same places.

oh, i know you weren't suggesting lions for lambs but i am curious to hear what you think about it, if you do indeed watch it.

Richard said...

so am I. I often find myself disappointed wih friends recommendations. Doubly so when it is all quite popular (like Lord of the Rings. zzzzzzzzzz. I couldn't finish the book, it was so dull).

b said...

richard...i've repeatedly heard people rave about lord of the rings but have no desire to see it. i am not always disappointed by friends' recommendations but often so. it can't be said enough: to each our own.

Richard said...

The movie is ok. A bit long. I think the whole 10 hour trilogy could be editted down to 3 hours (heresy! My fanatic friends claim).

My brother and I both independently watched the first two movies the same way - at 2X speed with the subtitles on. I saw the 3rd in the cinema, so no opportunity to fast forward.

mattbg said...

I haven't seen the movie, but plan to see it based on your review. It sounds very interesting! Because of this, though, the comments that follow may not be relevant.

I can understand why someone with his approach may find it difficult to reconcile with his parents. Boomer parents, generally-speaking, are often about excess, prosperity, and a "do it to them before they do it to you" type of attitude, presumably based on their experiences in the workforce and with their peers. It's a complete reversal from the way in which they were raised, and they, of course, try to raise their kids to have the same values. At the same time, though, they, as a generation, have exhausted the resources that allowed them to have those lives. There will never be another generation to have so much, yet they often push the dogma of pursuing the types of things that came by quite easily onto their children, who may not see the value in working themselves to death for other people so that they can have what their parents had. What their parents had is now so much more difficult to come by; so much so that many people may question what they're actually trying to achieve, particularly if you're paying attention to the suffering going on in the rest of the world, largely inflicted because of the need to feed the lifestyles of your boomer parents.

The problem of the parents seems like it could be summed up by, "learning to like the ones we love".

It should also be said that, from the way you describe his approach, it's very similar to the way of life preached by many of the popular religions. Organized religion has become a one-way crutch for many people, though. It's particularly bad in the US when you see people with so much excess claiming to be Christian, and even using Christian values to push things through that are only meant to increase the wealth of those that are already wealthy. The Christian notion of charity requires that you make yourself uncomfortable in your giving. You should always have your own situation at risk, and that is how you determine the length of your charity.

As for living longer lives... it does seem to be true that, now that we live longer lives, we seem to take so much longer to accomplish what our forebears accomplished in less time. We push toward a longer life for our offspring with the expectation that they'll be able to do more in their lifetime than we were able to do. But, then, it seems like they just take longer to do the same and the net benefit is zero.

Looking forward to watching this movie.

b said... both really watched at 2x speed? i can't imagine how that would be enjoyable! i didn't know you had a brother. any other siblings?

mattbg...i'm glad my "review" inspires a desire within you to see this. it was really moving for me and i hope you enjoy it.

yeah, i think there is much relevance in what you initially say about parents and that particular boomer generation. my parents both grew up poor and although we were never rich growing up, my siblings and i had a much more comfortable life than my parents ever previously knew. and i think that fact became an obsession for my father. he worked so hard and placed all of himself in a career, in making money, saving money, managing money, and building security. but tonight my dad and i had a powerful conversation (albeit, very brief, as my father isn't one to go on and on about such things) about society and the obsession with things. he is almost 70 and he was talking about how wonderful things were when he was simple they were. and i don't think this is just general nostalgia but i think he sees that a life in pursuit of security is miserable. it leaves one embittered.

i'm not sure who you are referring to when you say that "from the way you describe his approach, it's very similar to the way of life preached by many of the popular religions." the main character in the movie certainly does not seem (at least to me) to approach his journey in a religious manner. he seems to really reject that notion, although the movie is not without some moral implications. but definitely not religious but rather, spiritual in a more pure sense.

i do agree that religion is such a crutch. it seems to be the great perpetuator of social ideologies. oh, i could go on and on about this subject!

and yes, we do live longer lives but i also don't think that we accomplish more. i've been thinking lately...if you look at people over the past few thousands of years, what is fundamentally different about our course of life? well, we now have technology and yes, we can construct a building in a relatively short amount of time...whereas 300 years ago, such a task took much longer. but look at how ugly buildings are (on the whole) now compared to the beautiful architecture (again, on the whole and i realize how general i am being here). just because we have become more efficient in some ways, doesn't mean we have evolved into better beings. this efficiency has compromised other aspects of ourselves.

Richard said...

Yes, I did. And I was surprised later to learn that my brother had done the same.

Trust me, the movie is "epic and cinematic", which is another way of saying slow. It very easy to watch at 2X (it doesn't look that jerky) and the subtitles were easy to read. The second movie (The Two Towers) could be summarized as, "our heroes wander around Middle Earth for 3 hours. Comic relief is provided by a huffing and puffing dwarf who spouts lines like, 'Don't worry about me. I'll catch up.'"

If you read my blog, you would know that I have a younger sister and an even younger brother (who married this June). And that is it for my family in Canada (aside from Sofia and the kids). Worldwide (talking my side of the family), I have a grand total of 2 cousins, 4 nieces / nephews, 1 grandmother, 2 aunts and 1 uncle (non-blood). And that is it. I have some sort of relative in Australia (I think she is my dad's cousin - maybe indirect) and I have heard mention of 1 or 2 other relatives. This in contrast to Sofia who has 5 siblings, 10 nieces / nephews, and, it seems, dozens and dozens of cousins.

mattbg said...

b, I agree with what you say about the buildings. Most buildings aren't anything to look forward to, these days. Churches, for example, were historically magnificent buildings that people genuinely looked forward to seeing go up. I can't think of many buildings that people look forward to seeing going up these days. We complain about inconvenienced by their construction, the shadows that they'll inevitably cast, and the increased traffic that they'll invite. Not much is said about the appearance of the building, but I think that most people that fight construction are really fighting the fact that buildings just aren't usually consistent with their surroundings. There's no sense of integration or harmony between a new building and its surroundings in most cases. They're beyond human scale and make us feel uncomfortable. I think this manifests itself as a rejection of other qualities.

Regarding what you said about chasing security in life... I think it necessarily has to be uncomfortable, because if you're chasing security then it means that you don't feel secure. I think a lot of people that chase security don't have a good sense of what they need to make themselves feel secure, so they just chase everything they can think of and there just isn't enough time in the day, or enough capacity to focus to deal with it all. Everyone has a bit of that in them, I think, but some take it further than others, and some deal with it better. The worst is probably when you are pulled in so many directions in that you're easily tempted into spending your money in so many different ways, while at the same time beating yourself up because you're not investing in your security. I think a lot of people fall into that bucket in our consumerist society.

Of course, I value security, too... but I tend to see security as being able to deal with situations that come up, rather than chasing some concrete definition of security as something specific to acquire. My idea of security isn't to secure a job with a single employer for life and consistently override my own character to feed a sociopathic employer; it's to remain in an employable condition by numerous potential employers for the amount of lifetime I expect to want to spend working.

I was pretty much raised by my parents to look for security in a single place. Over the past few years, I'm starting to change what I think about that. Sure, it might look good on your resume to have employment stability. But there comes a time, having worked at one place for so long, that you're no longer employable anywhere else because your knowledge has become specific to that employer. That's a very stressful situation. You may not have as much old-fashioned security by jumping between employers and/or taking short-term contracts, but you're much more employable and new jobs are much easier to come by. I'm sure there are parallels to other areas of life in this.

Run Around Paris said...

This sounds great...I am on my way to add it to my Netflix que...thanks!

b said...

run around paris... it is still in the movie theaters, i believe, but hopefully it won't take too long to get out on dvd. i think you'll really appreciate it!