Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Into the Wild. How to Succeed by breaking all the Rules. A film review

Into the Wild, A film by Sean Penn. 2007.
Based on the journals of a young Emory University graduate who went to live in the Alaskan wilderness only to succumb to the natural forces around him, this powerful and beautiful film succeeds in the most unusual ways.
It is long, 148 minutes, with a complicated time line that goes back and forth erratically. It has an inordinate amount of voiceover, and printover, and takes place largely on an old rusty bus sitting in a field in Alaska.
Yet, despite these obvious handicaps, this film manages to be moving and effective. The story is about a rather foolish recent college graduate who recklessly follows his dream to the mountains of Alaska. He keeps a diary, in which he records his daily life and his soul searching in purple tinged prose. There are many flashbacks to his cross country adventures, among the hippies of the Southwest, and farmers of the great plains. He meets people who care about him and reach out to him, but he can only appreciate them in retrospect, from his lonely world on the edge of nowhere. Through one full winter, he descends further and further into a morass of starvation and mad loneliness, and we are brought along skillfully by masterful direction and cinematography.
That’s not to say that the film is without it’s flaws. The screenplay supplemented the texts found in the young man’s journals with interviews with his sister and friends. Perhaps it would have been better to go lighter on the interviews when writing that script, because the flashbacks to family life, which occur at discomfortingly frequent intervals, are a distraction that add little to the story, and tend to drag the story down to a banal level of childish rebellion. About halfway through, his film sister says in voiceover, that she realized that her brother’s wordless disappearance was provoked by feelings much deeper than mere rebelliousness, and this was the perfect opportunity to cut out the family flashbacks entirely. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, and we were subjected to scenes of spousal abuse and family anguish of questionable relevance that weakened the film’s focus.

I kept noticing the faults, the foolishness of the young man, the immaturity of his journal writings, the maudlin family life, the monotony of the daily routine depicted, yet I became totally involved in spite of myself. Sean Penn has chosen a difficult subject, and flawed material, but by surrounding himself with some of the best talent in Hollywood, both in front of the camera and behind it, he has put together a truly artistic film


May 9, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , , , ,

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