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Today in a world plagued by consumerism and waste, Sean Penn’s ‘Into The Wild’ provides a fresh take on the subject matter, showing the dangers within our society that such exorbitant consumerism can have on the human psyche; it relates to our society now more than ever, having aged well over the past 12 years since its release
Having been nominated for two Oscars and is based on a true story, Into The Wild follows the picaresque adventures of the troubled protagonist Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who, fueled by the notions of transcendentalist philosophical greats such as Thoreau and Emerson abandons his family and sets out on an epic adventure across America to find solace in solitude from consumerism.
Set out in a non-linear fashion the film actually starts with a flashforward from the majority of the movie to where Chris is on his lonesome in the desolate wastes of the Alaskan wilderness. The Himalayan-esque white mountains and deserted bush set out in the establishing shot of the opening scene show no civilization anywhere in the site, conveying an overwhelming sense of freedom from the materialistic shackles of society. This scene is contrasted deeply with the scene directly after; We see Chris, having just recently graduated from college with honors, at lunch with his parents celebrating his achievement. However, Chris isn’t celebrating. His parents offer to buy him a new car as his current car is only serving to embarrass his parents to the neighbors. Chris, annoyed at the statement of this, claims that he doesn’t need a new car and that these “things, things, things” that his parents are always adamant about purchasing are prodigal. His parents are shown to be vain and lavish throughout. The such stark juxtaposition with the Alaskan wilderness that Chris, at first, seems happy in allows us to glimpse into Chris’s life and the reasons why he might’ve wanted to escape that wastrel lifestyle his parents has set up for him.
One of the motives for Chris in ‘Into The Wild’ is his draconian desire to be in complete isolation from everybody and everything. While a naturally gregarious person and cordial to nearly every stranger he meets on the road, he still feels that he needs to escape society due to his strict moral codes. Chris has trouble sticking in relationships mostly due to his estrangement from his mother and father. He travels up and down the USA meeting fellow nomads Rainey and Jan(Brian Dieker and Catherine Keener), and working for a short stint with grain worker Wayne (Vince Vaughn). The most meaningful connection that Chris makes is with an older man named Ron (Hal Holbrook). A relationship blooms between the two, with Ron coming to see Chris as the son he never had. Their relationship is cut short because just like with everyone else Chris met he believes that the importance of family is overrated. You can’t have a good movie without good actors and Into The Wild doesn’t overlook this aspect. Boasting an engaging ensemble cast all of which have great synergy; Into The Wild’s story wouldn’t be as poignant without it.
Eddie Vedder’s folklike score with hints of rock and roll making “fleeting appearances” throughout ‘Into The Wild’ works to create a gentle atmosphere within the movie and allow us to delve into Chris’s wild world through gentle guitar riffs and heartfelt lyrics. His songs work to create a strong sense of freedom with an implication of danger within society and nature itself. The soundtrack alone I would say is enough on its own to warrant a watch with it even winning a Golden Globe for Best Original Song – ‘Guaranteed’.
Though on its exterior the first half of Into The Wild may seem like a simple film about a young man’s wanderlust or desire to escape from society, is in a truer sense that shows us two ideas: That sometimes depending on others is necessary, and dangers of idealism. Chris pledges himself to lead an itinerant and impoverished lifestyle, time after time rejecting the love and support of his friends who serve as a surrogate family to him throughout his journey. The film serves as a warning, if you repeat the same mistakes as Chris you’ll end up alone in the wild like himself. The film is brilliant in essence largely because of the message that it translates to the viewer along with the masterful execution, and I feel that one quote in particular by Chris shows this – “Happiness is best shared with others.”
The film doesn’t just show us what we can learn from Chris, but also what we can learn from the world we live in today. The main motive behind all of Chris’s actions is society. The society that breeds greed. The society that makes people ugly. The society that wastes. Although based in the 90’s, the message within is more relevant today than ever. Consumerism is inherently bad, adding little to our well-being as well as being disastrous for the planet. Consumerism causes the waste over ⅓ of global food each year in waste. Consumerism means that 59 percent of the world’s resources were consumed by the wealthiest ten percent of the population. Consumerism means that depression rates have doubled over the past decade. Despite taking a step forward since the time the film is set in, society has taken two steps back in terms of social and environmental welfare and we still have a long way to go make amends.
Fitted with all the trappings of a great film Into The Wild does not disappoint whatsoever; with a captivating story and one of the best scores, i’ve had the pleasure of hearing to boot. It is a must-watch.
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