Into the Wild – a Sean Penn classic
Ever read Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe‘? Young Robinson gets to travel the world with unfortunate consequences. An escapade triggered by the support of his father as he starts to make his way in life. The theme of the benevolent father, supporting a son, isn’t new. But sometimes the weight of a father’s expectations for his son’s future – whether the choice of a bride or career – can prove suffocating. Worse still, these expectations often preclude any consideration of the son’s hopes and fears – or indeed, his doubts and insecurities. Think Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin, the soon to be 21 year old young man in ‘The Graduate’. Parental pressures soon drive him into the all too willing arms of Mrs Robinson and an outcome his father could never have dreamt of.
Sean Penn’s movie – ‘Into the Wild’ – takes the familiar theme and shows us a son, Christopher McCandless, driven by contempt for his father (and complicit mother) and taking radical steps to remove himself from the orbit of family ties and obligations. He’s meticulous in leaving no trail behind as he sets off on his odyssey to Alaska, eradicating any vestiges of his identity in the process. Christopher McCandless is now reborn as Alexander Supertramp and so his incredible journey begins.
Emile Hirsch, as Alex, has your full attention from the exciting start, through his picaresque adventures, to an almost sepulchral ending. The painfully beautiful filming complements rather than distracts from the powerful narrative as it lunges from Atlanta, Georgia to the Californian coast, or from the deserts of the West, through the prairies of Dakota, to the promised land – Alaska.
Alex’s encounters with a range of individuals on his journey help him to figure the whole thing out and confirm his integrity and decency. Wonderful performances from Catherine Keener as Jan Burres and Brian H Dierker as Rainey, two itinerant hippies were particularly touching and sincere. Perhaps most poignant of all, though, is Hal Holbrook as loner, Ron Franz.
All the lives of those he encounters are enriched by Alexander Supertramp. And this amazing biographical movie from 2007 has certainly enriched and touched mine. Sean Penn has made a modern classic – Daniel Defoe would have applauded.