Watched the Sean Penn film last night, and thought it deeply moving, well-made, and thought-provoking. Based on a true story, the movie follows Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book closely. Penn chronicles the wanderings of Christopher McCandless across America, provides essential background through flashbacks and voice-overs, and takes us all the way to the terminus of Alaska in 1992. It’s a very strong film, one that deserves a wider audience.
The performances by the chief actors are excellent, especially Emile Hirsch as Christopher, and Catherine Keener as Jan Burres, a friend he makes along the way. I also liked Kristen Stewart (in an all too brief role) as Tracy Tatro, a girl with an enormous crush on Chris, whom he meets through Jan and her husband, Rainey.
Back to the book for a moment:
Interesting parallels exist between Krakauer and McCandless, which must have made the writing more difficult, personal, perhaps even cathartic . . . (Parallels exist between Penn and McCandless as well, but will save that aspect for another day)
Both risked everything to pursue solitude, to overcome natural obstacles, to fight extremes of weather, terrain and topography. Krakaeur, for instance, climbed Mount Everest in 1996, but most of his team perished in the descent. I have not read the book yet, so am not sure if further parallels are there . . . such as the impact of reading Jack London, Tolstoy, and Thoreau (on McCandless). Or, if Krakauer had (or has) such a strong idealism and sense of humanitarian mission. The movie portrays a young man determined to break free from societal chains, as he saw them. Lies, hypocrisy, extreme materialism, cruelty to one another, are key notes of Chris’s critique. McCandless begins his final journey by giving away money earmarked for law school ($24,000) to Oxfam.
I was left with many strong feelings after watching the film. Perhaps the one that stays with me the longest will be the sense of tragic irony, waste, and loss. Christopher McCandless seemed like a young man deeply committed to the possibility that idealism can be matched with effective action. He must have experienced a severely conflicted dynamic, pushing and pulling hm back into and away from the human world. Ultimately, his choices deprived that world of that rare breed of person who believes passionately, vigorously, perhaps even athletically in progressive change. We need more people like him, and we need those people to survive their wanderings and their dark nights of the soul.