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Movie Review

Into the Wild a.k.a. “In die Wildnis—Allein nach Alaska”

MPAA Rating: R for language and some nudity

Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Adventure, Biography, Drama
Length:
1 hr. 20 min.
Year of Release:
2007
USA Release:
September 21, 2007
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Relevant Issues
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Why are humans supposed to wear clothes? Answer

How can I be and feel forgiven? Answer

If God forgives me every time I ask, why do I still feel so guilty? Answer

Forgiveness of sin

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Featuring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Dan Burch, Joe Dustin, Zach Galifianakis, Cheryl Francis Harrington, John Jabaley, Thure Lindhardt, Robin Mathews, Kathleen Mattice, Parris Mosteller, Signe Egholm Olsen, Haley Ramm, J. Nathan Simmons, Susan Spencer, Haley Sweet, Bryce Walters, Merritt Wever, Steven Wiig
Director: Sean Penn
Producer: David Blocker, Frank Hildebrand, John J. Kelly, Art Linson, Sean Penn, William Pohlad
Distributor: Paramount Vantage

“Your large adventure on Alaska.”

Copyrighted, Paramount Vantage

After years of tutelage from Hollywood luminaries like Eastwood, Allen and Malick, there is little doubt that Sean Penn can create realistic characters who are on a journey to work out their flaws. He has shed light on such introspective characters in his previous directorial outings, “The Crossing Guard” and “The Indian Runner.” Now Penn turns the lens on real life character Christopher McCandless. Emile Hirsch poetically plays the Messianic sojourner who after graduating from Emory University decides to give up his fathers’ dream of sending his son to Harvard and gives away his college education savings of $24,000 to a charity to end poverty. He instead packs his bags with dreams and hopes and heads for Alaska to live in the wilderness.

On his way to Alaska he encounters many colorful characters, starting with Rainy and Jan, two hippies that pick him up and transport him for part of his journey. Occasionally, he has to find work to support his journey, and his first job takes him to a wheat field owned by Wayne (Vince Vaughn) where he operates a combine. With each life he meets, he learns a little more about his life and his purpose. Part of his purpose is a lesson in forgiveness, as we find out about childhood injuries inflicted on Chris and his sister by their father (William Hurt) while their mother (Marcia Gay Harden) did nothing to stop it.

The relationships that Chris (who adopts the name of Alexander Supertramp during his journey) builds are not one-sided, as the people he meets are equally transformed through their meeting of Christopher.

The heart of this picture dwells in issues of forgiveness and love. On his last stop of civilization before going “into the wild,” he encounters Ron Franz, played by veteran screen actor Hal Holbrook. Ron confronts him and tries to convince Alex to go back and settle things with his parents. He also talks to Chris about God and tries to convince him to let him adopt him before he goes.

There is a very spiritual message at the heart of this movie. While in the desert he comes across a man who molds and paints statues that are colorfully emblazoned with scripture and slogans of God’s love. The man is genuine and authentic and never played to be mocked or reduced to a religious nut or stereotype.

As far as objectionable material, the film is relativity mild when compared to most Hollywood fair. Yes, there is some profanity, particularly when Alex is talking with Wayne or having a philosophical conversation with Rainy, however, since most of the time he is alone on his Alaskan Adventure, the only talking he does is with nature. There are a few scenes of nudity. First, he comes across a couple from the Netherlands, and the woman spends half the scene topless after emerging from a swim. There is also a scene where Chris floats down a river naked. Lastly while in the final leg of his journey he crosses through a nudist camp.

[Why are humans supposed to wear clothes? Answer]

Another scene which some viewers may find difficult to watch involves Alex’s survival skills. Since he is living in the wilderness, he has to survive on what he eats, which includes killing and preparing animals. There is a scene in the movie of Alex preparing a large moose which may be disturbing to some viewers but is in no ways gratuitous, as the scenes’ purpose is to offer Alex a lesson.

The acting and directing are all top notch, as the performances by every character are very subdued, and you feel like you are watching everyday people rather than Hollywood actors. Most of the characters seem to be cast from the numerous towns this film was shot at, rather than Central Casting. The only aspect that outshines the performances is the scenery in which the performances take place, the film is simply beautiful to look at.

If you are not offended by the language and nudity, this one man journey ‘into the wild’ is worth exploring.

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Excellent performances by a superb cast. Fantastic scenery and a very emotionally moving story. I wish more young people could see this movie, but the R-Rating will probably prevent many. With a few mild nude scenes and curse words deleted, it easily could have been a PG-13 movie. Not a movie I will soon forget.
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Aaron, age 49
Positive—'Forgive me. I did not see. I have failed you all', whispered the mortally wounded Boromir. “No, Boromir,” said Aragorn, “you have fought bravely, you have acheived a great victory.” With these words, the life of Boromir came quickly to an end. What was the “great victory” achieved by Boromir at the end of a life marked by the betrayal of a fellowship he had sworn to defend? How does a mortally wounded man, condemned to die, win victory in the most terrible of circumstances?

These are the questions explored by screenwriter and director Sean Penn in what is, in this writer’s estimate, the best movie of the year, “Into the Wild.” “into the Wild” is the faithful account, warts and all, of a young, highly intelligent graduate of Emory University named Christopher McCandless, who upon graduation from college sold all he had, gave his life savings to the poor, and embarked on a two year journey to “kill the false being” within himself. After traipsing about the country for just over two years, his badly decomposed body was found in a dilapidated bus in the Alaskan wilderness. The cause of death: starvation.

The movie follows Chris’s ill fated spiritual odessey, showing the audience how Chris abandons his former life to such an extent that he renames himself, “Alexander Supertramp.” It is the gripping story of the prodigal who won’t come home, who can’t come home until he discovers only to late that real happiness comes from sharing your life with others. This point is artfully demonstrated by Sean Penn when Alex is shown reading aloud the words of Tolstoy about a life lived for others, in service of others.

By the time Alex comes to his senses, he realizes that he must leave the Alaskan outback if he is to survive, only to discover that the way back is through an uncrossable river now swollen with melted snow. Alex is trapped to his doom. The director shows us how terribly Alex suffers as starvation sets in. The actor portraying Alex is transformed into something akin to a Holocaust survivor before our very eyes. I have seen it twice now, and both times the audience gasped as the emaciated Alex appears on screen. Its brutal and horrifying to watch, but watch we must.

At the end of his life, Alex achieves the great victory that Tolkien atrributes to Boromir, a spiritual victory. Alex has now returned to being Chris McCandless, and, as such, boldly signes his real name to his farewell note, “thanking the Lord” for his good life and calling on God to bless those that he knew he was leaving behind.

So often we long to see the Prodigal return home, but in real life this seldom happens, because actions always have consequences. It is tempting to be like the elder brother of the Prodigal and judge the actions of the Chris McCandlesses through harsh and bitter eyes pointing out the folly of his short tragic life without realizing that the greatest victory one can ever have comes from having your soul stripped bare, having your folly exposed to all, and ending up impaled on a cross begging for mercy. This is, I believe, the predicament of Chris McCandless, and as such the film succeeds in its art on virtually every level. For anyone who has ever traveled the lonely path of Chris McCandless, this film is for you.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Joel L. Pearce, age 43
Positive—After reading the book while on a tour of Alaska, I eagerly awaited the release of the movie. I was not disapointed. The scenery was beatuiful, the cinematography was superb, and the casting and acting did not fail in their efforts to entertain, and to cause the viewer to connect to this free spirited young man. One cannot help but admire his desire to spread his wings and explore this beautiful world we inhabit. Chris McCandless’s disdain for materialism is understandable, but how sad that he judged his parents so harshly for mistakes made in their youth.

His journey of self-discovery ended far too early and abruptly, yet he seemed to have come to the understanding that relationships are one’s most valuable and precious possessions. Had he been rescued, I have no doubt he would have reconciled with his family, having gained a certain amount of maturity as a result of his experiences. One who has been the recipient of mercy is usually much more able to then be a distributor of that same mercy. My only disapointment in this film, from a moral standpoint, was the unnecessary nudity, which seemed very out of place and added nothing to the story. Being the parent of teenage son, I have had to cross this movie from his list of must-see movies, much to his disapointment. When will Hollywood every “get it”? That was my only gripe with the film. Other than that, it was excellent.
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
—Kim Schwinn, age 38
Positive—I have never been so moved by a movie. There is much that a Christian can pull from this, in terms of living in risk and uncertainty (trusting in the Lord) and shunning the lures and trappings of the world. It has inspired me to take more adventures with God (both hiking and street preaching) and reflect upon how safe I’ve become. It might not have the same effect on you—but wow—I am an adventurer and dreamer again… Yes—there is a section with nudity—but one can look away. (A “light headed” German woman is topless with her boyfriend in the wild… but it’s not sexual.) It’s easy to criticize the main character. He did make mistakes. But—he had some good insights. I have a lot more to criticize about society… and even how many of us live in the body of Christ.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Frank Meyer, age 44
Neutral
Neutral—This movie is so sad. The acting was good, the visuals were really good. The story was just so sad. What’s even sadder is that it is a true story. It seemed that this young man could hear no encouragement about life except what was going on in his head and that was to take his “Alaska Adventure.” It was clear that he had terrible feelings towards his parents and he was driven to get away. This movie only made me and my family feel very sad to the point of tears.

All of the people he encountered in his adventure encouraged him to contact his family, all liked him to the point that none wanted him to leave. Yet, it seemed he refused to allow himself to bond with anyone to the point where he might stop and think about his decisions. I felt so sorry for his family who missed him so much and and were agonizing over him. He was indifferent to his parents and you could tell he disliked both of them, because of their pasts. It did show how even though a person who makes really good grades in school and succeed extremely well academically can still have no wisdom about life.

I kept hoping that he would come to his senses and go back home. It appeared at one point he had decided to leave the “wild,” but the road home was too rough at the time he decided to go, so he had to remain in the “wild.” Forgiveness is what he needed to experience and as far as the movie showed, he never did. He did realize that he needed people and he did experience the emptiness of being alone.

There were several scenes of nudity, but no sex. There was a bit of cussing, but the hardest thing is that it is a “heavy” movie.

To recommend this movie to be seen is a hard one, because like I said, it is so sad, it only left you of a realization of what a senseless death this young man experienced. The direction he was following, which he felt like he had to do, only led him straight to death. At the end of the movie, they have a picture of the actual young man who this movie is about. He had taken a self portrait which they found in his camera. People are calling this a spiritual movie, but it is the wrong spirit in my opinion.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Donna M, age 51
Neutral—…We both enjoyed the the beauty of alaska. His adventures were pretty out there and it was very courageous of him to do what he did to get to Alaska. The young man depicted in the movie reminds me so much of the young men I attend college with. Angry and bitter men that seem to be their own God. I was disappointed the movie didn’t cover too much on positive side of his life, I’m sure there were some. I personally grew up in a violent home, but there were good times that I can remember. I can honestly say that forgiveness is the key to life and love. I, too, had to forgive my parents for their mistakes. The movie wasn’t disappointing, but it did tell us the viewer about consequences to rebellion and pride. As a Xhristian, and maybe a mother one day, I pray I can raise my children to forgive and be obedient to God’s ways. Using wisdom, being responsible and not running from your problems.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
—Sonja Lewis, age 34
Neutral—I was actually dissapointed with this movie. I was expecting the scenery to be a lot better than it was, which was one of the reasons I wanted to see the film. The acting was done really well, but of course it was a sad and somewhat depressing story. There was quite a bit of objectional material in it to, swearing and way to much nudity! I didn’t realize there was going to be so much of it! A topless woman for one scene and a nudist colony and I think there were a few other scenes as well, so be aware of that.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Krys, age 27
Negative
Negative—I saw it on an airplane so the nudity was blurred and the language bleeped. This movie would have been short of spectacular if nudity wasn’t apart of the equation. I was highly offend with the nudity even with it blurred. I wouldn’t dare watch it without the film being edited. This movie was rated-R for good reason.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Jordan, age 21