Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Into the Wild Doesn't Go Far Enough

The tragic story Into the Wild now in theaters, is the kind of movie actors love. I know this, because several actor friends raved about the movie to me. Actors love this kind of movie first of all because it was directed by an actor, Sean Penn, and any time an actor directs, it is like the entire acting universe exhales a long, melodramatic, self-justifying, "See, we can have thoughts too!" (Hahaha...Just kidding!) But this is also the kind of film actors like because it affords a lot of long drawn out moments of actors emoting on the screen.

In case you missed the book, as I did, (Cause I don't think I ever would have been coaxed into the theater if I had read it!), Into the Wild follows the road-trip and then off-road trip of Gen X antidisestablishmentarianist Chris McCandless, as he acts out his rage against his selfish Boomer parents by leaving home, leaving civilization and then accidentally starving to death in his ill-conceived trek into the wilds of Alaska.

I didn't think a lot of the film technically. Sean Penn chose a very distancing style of framing his shots, either in extreme close-ups, or in broad canvas wide shots. I kept wanting to just see the actor's faces, and where they were sitting in relationship to each other in a nice plain old medium shot. But there are way too few of these early on. And by the time, the director has dropped this over-stylistic technique well-into the (way too long) movie, I didn't care about bonding with the characters any more. And I know that there may be a rationale behind the framing that was deliberately distancing so that we can't really see who these people are blah blah blah, but all I can say then, is, if you were trying to make me disengage from the characters, you succeeded. Take a bow.

The actors are all raving about the acting and, with the exception of the lead character, played by Emile Hirsch, I did think the performances were very good. But I felt very sad that so much acting talent was squandered in the sense of not having a whole lot to do. Marcia Gay Harden is always enjoyable to watch, but here, she flits in the background of a handful of moments. Also William Hurt didn't need to be here. Hal Holbrooke was lovely, and has the distinction of being the only character in the movie whose backstory and purpose in the film makes any sense at all. And the other character actors who flit in and out of the main story, all seem to be kind of bored, like any minute either Catherine Keener or Vince Vaugn were going to direct address the camera, "So, what is this movie about, anyway?"

As the lead, Emile Hirsch was over his head and had no real connection with the emotions that were driving his character. The actor lost a lot of physical weight to play the character, but he never surrended to the hysteria and rage that would actually have to be there to drive someone to the extremes that led McCandless to his death.

The film uses embarrassingly overwritten narration to cover for the holes in the story. Every time you are just about to put something together, in comes Jena Malone's mournful voice to oversimplify it for you. Not good.

There was one great line of dialogue that I thought pretty much summed up this Boomer Post-script era. Two of the folks that Chris McCandless cavorts with on his trip are two long-haired, grey-hairs who are still living the 60's sexual revolution drop out dream. One of them sighs at one point on their meaningless existence and says, "All is not well in hippie land." Ha! Talk about a quote to carve on the Boomer's collective gravestone!

In it's totality, the movie is quite disturbing. My friend and I left the theater alternately disgusted and annoyed. It just seemed like such a damn waste of a life. If only somebody had been around to slap McCandless ont he side of the head and say, "So your folks dropped you on your head. So, pick yourself up, and go and help somebody!" If this film has any importance at all, it will be because of the window (even incomplete as it is) it gives into the lives and motivations of the children of the Boomers. Rage and narcissism, the sense of having gotten a raw deal, laziness masking itself as wunderlust, did I say angry narcissism?

The problem for Sean Penn, et al, in making this film, is that they can't bring themselves to actually condemn the Sexual Revolution. So, they end up saying very little, except, "Wow, let's all stare at this guy."

I was bored after about thirty minutes into this movie. Except for a few weird moments of nudity, there isn't anything here that would be violating for most Christians. It's just disappointing because it doesn't have much to offer by way of meaning. I can't recommend it. Pass.

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