One of the best movies I've ever seen5/10
One of the best movies I've ever seen. Beautiful, deep, true, adventurous, sad, occasionally funny, real, at times very touching. Based on a real-life novel, it is written and directed by Sean Penn. I have always loved the movie work of Sean Penn. Congratulations and thank you to Mr. Penn on giving me a few hours of though-provoking delight. Can you say Oscar? This movie says it loud and clear!
The story; Christopher McCandless, just graduated from college in the early 1990s, goes off on an adventure. He is smitten with books he readsThoreau, London, Byron. He wants no money, so he gives his to needy causes or burns it. Chris is cocky, driven, industrious.
He is traumatized by his parents' bad marriage. He tries to work through his anguish. He seems determined to destroy himself just to prove that he has different values than his parents. He is inconsiderate of his family and keeps them worried about his whereabouts and safety, as if a single reassuring phone call would ruin his rebellion. He fancies himself a philosopher, but acts the petulant child. It is a great credit to the film that we see these character flaws in our hero.
Off on the road, he makes a number of foolish choices and suffers from some of them. Other foolish choices, such as daring to kayak a rapid river, bring him joy. He meets a lot of people and almost all are kind to him. His interactions with people are intense, the kind you have when you are planning to run off and disappear while you are still a mysterious entity. He avoids getting too close to anyone.
The movie is gorgeous. Mountains, plains, sky, rivers, animals. The acting is fantastic, totally believable. The actors are incredible and perfectly cast Catherine Keener as an aging hippie vagabond, Vince Vaughn as a wacky farmer growing who knows what, William Hurt as Chris' potbellied suburbanite dad, Marcia Gay Harden as the type of mom who breeds children who wants to run off to the wilderness to escape from her. Emile Hirsch plays Chris, and does a great job of it. When an actual photo of the real Chris McCandless comes on screen, we see that Hirsch resembles him. Original songs by Eddie Vedder give the right feel that of a well-to-do young white man heading out on a chosen adventure, getting gritty by choice. His goal is to get to Alaska, but on the way there, he hits many other states and Mexico, too.
Chris is a clueless kid from the warm South. He plans to go to Alaska, yet only arrives with any needed equipment because kind folks force it upon him a machete, warm clothes, rubber boots. He's highly educated and gets good grades, yet, early on his trip, ignores a big sign that warns of flash floods. That prepares us that we are going to wince many times at his low level of common sense, while at the same time reveling in his physical strength and willingness to press on.
At one point, Chris passes through Los Angeles. He is dirty, hungry, tired, and goes to a downtown mission shelter. The other men there are also dirty, hungry, and tired, but not of their own choosing. It is not their adventure, it is their life. He realizes fast that he does not want to feel categorized with men who are in dire straits due to misfortune and not due to following their own adventure.
The movie shows Chris as an honorable young man. I do not want to give away any of the plot, so I'll just say the young man has principles and so does the movie.
A few parts of the movie confused me. After Chris's college graduation, he meets h is parents at a restaurant. He brings with him a lovely young woman, obviously his date. Weirdly, it turns out that she is his sister!
There is more confusion when Chris picks up work on a farm run by Wayne, the Vince Vaughn character. What are they growing or doing? What's up?
There is an unintentionally funny scene where an old man tells Chris that he does not have time for adventures because he is too busy with leather. I thought the old guy was confessing being into whips and chaps. But no, he has a workshop where he tools leather.
There were a couple spots where the editing distracted from the movie. I saw a preview; maybe it was a rough cut. There's a scene on the farm where a triple screen is used like a cheesy commercial.
Another scene, where Chris is eating an apple, is a series of jump cuts, which I really liked. It seemed an homage to French auteur filmmakers. But it ends with Chris mugging at the camera. With it, Sean Penn breaks the believability and acknowledges that yes, this is just us making a movie.
There is another part where Chris is in a car with the older man who is dropping him off. As they pull up, there is an inexplicable cutaway shot of what looks to be the head of a cannon.
Much of the movie is like a travel montage or music video involving mountains and sky. The scenes are so beautiful.
I know people that have elements of Chris in them. And I think I've met all the characters he runs into out on the road.