Into the Wild (2007) — Guy doesn’t take camping precautions, becomes famous post-mortem

“Just be out there in it, you know? In the wild.”

Justin’s rating: Stupid! You’re so stuuuupid!

Justin’s review: The question is, was Christopher McCandless a stupid, stupid man… or a man of courageous nature who had the audacity to reject society in a very consumerist age? Alaskans tend to say the first, but Into the Wild makes a strong case for the second. No one disputes that he was willful and apparently fearless. In any case, what’s done is done, and his unfortunate tragedy is a matter of public record.

But it still makes for fascinating viewing.

In 1992, McCandless (played here by Emile Hirsch) was dropped off in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness for a self-appointed “odyssey” away from it all. He was woefully unprepared in both gear and knowledge for the trek, but that didn’t deter him from striking out into nature, with civilization receding far behind him. He found a broken down bus to live in, some game to eat, and all the time in the world to think and write. While he didn’t come back (I figure public accounts like this are the exception to the “no spoiler” policy, but I won’t go into details), he did leave behind a four-month journal of his thoughts, activities and dreams. Enough for a movie, I suppose.

Backed by a kickin’ Eddie Vedder soundtrack, Into the Wild begins with McCandless’ first steps into the Alaskan bush, then flashes back to the past, to trace his steps from the last days of high school to this very moment. It turns out that this wasn’t the first odyssey he undertook, as the restless man crossed the continent in search of something that wasn’t fulfilled by money, relationships or success. Maybe he found it in the end. Maybe he was just a stupid idiot, an example for what Boy Scouts should not be.

Like other semi-historical films where you know the ending, the journey is all you really have to look forward to. Hirsch does a terrific job as the intense (but sometimes intensely askew) McCandless, especially when he is called on to do a one-man show, all alone in the wild.

While traveling Alaska is a dream of mine, I don’t think I’d ever consider going to such extremes as this guy, but it is a fascinating mind exercise to mull over. What would it be like, really, to ditch everything, burn your wallet on the road, and simply fall off of civilization’s radar, even if only for a few months? Dangerous, yes, and maybe the time of your life.

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