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THIS WEEK: Into the Wild (2007)
Enjoy the Moment!
HOW IT STARTS: McCandless shoots a moose, and works quickly to prepare the meat before it spoils.
THE PREFACE: Emile Hirsch portrays Christopher McCandless, a so-called “leather tramp… it’s what they call the ones who hoof it.” McCandless is a disaffected youth disillusioned with society and its focus on material things. He sums it up saying, “People are so bad to each other, so often.” He’s hinting this is because of their pursuit of things. Whereas he says, “I don’t want anything.” He wants something bigger: freedom and peace.
Fed up, he cuts up all the cards in his wallet, and sets out to see the world. His goal is to challenge himself like humans (as a species) used to do. He thinks you need to “measure yourself at least once.” He hits the road solo, but along the way he runs into interesting characters, real people he would never have met otherwise. During one of his encounters he’s asked what his plan is. He replies, “I got only one plan… Alaska.” Despite forming strong relationships quickly, he sticks to his plan. His test is to survive the wild.
THE SET-UP: McCandless is truly free, surviving off the land, and living inside of an abandoned bus left in the wilderness. He finds happiness with nature. He isn’t alone — because he’s surrounded by untamed beauty. He says other people are wrong when they think that “the joy of life comes principally from human relationships.”
To help us understand this there is some amazing photography of nature on full display. Sean Penn directs with a Terrence Mallick (THIN RED LINE, TREE OF LIFE) flavour. This combines triumphantly with Hirsch’s amazing performance in an emotional scene where he watches a herd of wild caribou run free.
Because McCandless detached from society, his focus shifts from unimportant anxieties of day-to-day life to the power of the moment in front of him. This new outlook guides McCandless to see the beauty in everything. This makes the sequence
with the moose (That Moment) so much more emotional.
McCandless respects nature and animals, he doesn’t want to hunt. It’s a survival issue, one that primitive man faced, which is what interests him so much. His desire to connect with early man and the truest form of our species fuels him to hunt. It’s a “measure” he must weigh.
THAT MOMENT: After killing the moose, McCandless rushes back to his shelter, and grabs his notes on how to prepare his kill. Meat spoils fast so time is precious. He sets about his task. Penn directs this sequence as a montage, jumping ahead in time, to better demonstrate the consequences. Unfortunately, flies swarm the meat before the preparation is done. McCandless uses moss and a wooden frame, creating a makeshift cover to protect the meat. His efforts go to waste, as the meat spoils, infested with maggots.
The weight of this “measure” cripples McCandless emotionally. It’s a weight he carried with him to the end of his life. Since we’ve spent so much time alone with him, wondering what he’s thinking, considering his philosophies, this Moment effects us just as much.
This scene is absolutely soul-rending and heart-breaking. Beautifully directed and powerfully performed, it’s hard not to ball your eyes out for McCandless. Since the meat is spoiled, he essentially killed the animal for nothing. He took its life, and wasted it. Waste is something he greatly despises in human nature. In a way, he has contributed to the modern state of excess. He tried to honour the kill when he removed the heart and silently prayed to its spirit. Now he can’t endure the pain of this dishonour. This also reminds us of how ill-prepared McCandless was at times. Perhaps if he had his notes with him the moose may not have spoiled.
THAT MOMENT REMEMBERED: Taking an animal’s life must be a tremendous action to consider, a serious guilt to live with, especially if you consider its life in this way. This Moment is exemplary of the themes of this film. In just one sequence, we feel so much because of our empathy for the character. By the end of this scene, when he writes in his journal, we are sobbing at his words: “Wish I’d never shot the moose. One of the greatest tragedies of my life.”
It’s a wonder Emile Hirsch didn’t get any award nominations for his performance here. Aside from his acting on the screen, he also lost tons of weight behind-the-scenes to accurately portray the film’s finale. His emaciated performance truly helps us believe in the illusion of cinema. This true story felt as real as it could.
If you are on board with this Moment, then you know how deeply this movie gets rooted into the audience. Considering this character’s philosophy will benefit your outlook on life. This Moment is just one of many ways themes are explored. Another was when McAllister writes a message into a book: “Happiness is only real when it’s shared.” What a sad realization at such a steep cost, reflecting poetically against his earlier quote (his disagreement that joy comes principally from others). This also demonstrates he knows he was wrong. There is a middle-ground to be found.
That Moment is paralleled with the end of this movie (regarding waste). It’s up to the viewer to decide if McCandless’ time with nature was dumb or honourable. It’s up to you to decide if he wasted his life on an ill-prepared foolish adventure to prove himself and some foolish philosophy. For the more free-spirited viewers, this Moment is monumental, and just one of many mind-opening sequences in INTO THE WILD worth Remembering.
Fans of true stories, character drama, and survival adventure will definitely enjoy Sean Penn’s film. Emile Hirsch delivers a captivating and brave performance, transforming himself to fully realize this role and honour McCandless. This story is littered with several intriguing and compelling characters played by Kristen Stewart, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook (Oscar nominated here), William Hurt, and Vince Vaughn.
David’s Take: A tragic tale of a young man out of his element seeking something beyond the world of man, the heartfelt story is doubly so because of the real man it is based on. There great acting turns throughout, with Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart and especially Hal Holbrook delivering some very memorable performances, but it is Emile Hirsch who really delivers. With Sean Penn directing, this touching, underrated film is truly something to be seen. The killing of the moose and the effects it has on McCandless is one of many powerful moments, and demonstrates the boy’s lack of skills and desperation. His frustration and discouragement are topped only by his disappointment and sorrow when it’s over.