The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My favorite road movie of all time

with 34 comments

intothewild

I love road movies.

It’s a film concept that works for me every time. The ingredients are always the same: one character (or a couple at the most), one road and a bunch of people to meet on the way. Plenty of sceneries. All neatly assembled into two parallel journeys: the physical in the world and the internal in the psyche as the character changes and grows throughout the trip. It’s a reflection of life, only I a smaller scale.

There’s no doubt that road movies also serve as a substitute for my own unfulfilled travel dreams. They play into some vague idea I have about breaking up from all duties, heading out for the big adventures, being present and taking the day as it comes. Not now of course, but at some point in the future, after retirement perhaps? I still live in the delusion that I have some backpacker material inside me (while I know for a fact that I’m more of a squishy who likes to travel, but in the end prefers a comfortable hotel room to a low budget bedbug infested youth hostel).

My favourite road movie
There many road movies that I love, but if I have to pick just one, there’s no hesitation about which one I’ll choose: Into the Wild. I’ve seen it several times since it came out and I know I will keep retuning to it in the future. I don’t normally rewatch films a lot, but this one has become like a companion to me.

When I saw it the first time, at a theatre when it came out in 2007, I was already familiar with the story after reading Jon Krakauer’s book about Chris McCandless. He was a special young man who broke up from an ordinary student life to go hitchhiking and living like a tramp for two years and then set off to Alaska to spend some time alone in the wilderness. Sadly it turned out that he wasn’t as prepared for such a life as he needed to be and he did some mistakes, which eventually led to his death.

I was prepared for a disappointment. That’s what you often get when you read the book before you watch the film adaptation. Since you’ve already made up all those images in your head, it’s hard to match those images on the screen. But Into the Wild never disappointed me. It was even the oppoiste: it turned out that I preferred the film to the book.

I loved the cinematography with the gorgeous shots from national parks. I loved the casting of Emile Hirsch as the main character. He’s young, innocent, energetic, as headless as he’s wise, a little bit cocky and vulnerable at the same time – a perfect choice. And of course I loved the the music by Eddie Vedder, so beautiful, so melancholic, exactly capturing the mood of being on the road. It’s one of the very few albums of film music I’ve ever bought and it’s my favourite.

A balanced view
When you look at the comments of Into the Wild at IMDb, there’s some very harsh criticism against it. There are complaints about Penn idealizing a reckless behaviour, making a hero out of someone who doesn’t deserve it. I couldn’t disagree more. On the contrary I think the film is very balanced in its view. It shows how Chris made a difference to the people he met on his road trip and it conveys his non materialistic, love preaching philosophy. But it also shows his shortcomings and realization that no one – not even he – could live and thrive on his own. His death is not the death of a martyr or hero. There’s no question about it being sad, pointless and unnecessary.

Every time I watch Into the Wild I bring something new with me from it: a perspective, an idea or a sentiment. I know it’s not the movie that has changed. It’s me, as I’m cruising through time on my one-way trip through life with death as my final destination.

Wherever I’ll go, wherever life will take me, Into the Wild will always be a companion on my journey.

Into the Wild (Sean Penn, US 2007) My rating: 5/5

 filmspanarna

 This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “on the road”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants:
Addepladde
Except fear
Fiffis filmtajm
Filmitch
Filmparadiset
Flmr Filmblogg
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den
Jojjenito
Mode + Film
Moving Landscapes
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord 

Written by Jessica

January 30, 2013 at 8:00 am

34 Responses

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  1. A lovely post. Perhaps the Thoreau-influence playing a part in your liking as well? As fo myself, I’m unfortunately too much of a cynic to be completely swept away by the film. However, Emile does an extraordinary job.

    Sofia

    January 30, 2013 at 9:43 am

    • Thank you Sofia! Oh yes, there’s no doubt that I’ve got a fellow Thoreau devotee in Chris. I’m sorry you weren’t as swept away as I was, but at least you could enjoy the acting, which is no short of great.

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm

  2. For some reason I always think of Heath Ledger when I see this film. Perhaps Emile look a bit like him, perhaps it´s just a feeling.

    And I´m with you on that roadmovie-thing. It´s a concept that works almost every time. 🙂

    Fiffi

    January 30, 2013 at 11:06 am

    • Hm… I never made that connection. But then I always make associations that noone else sees!

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

  3. Sean Penn is a talented director. I also like The Pledge, quite haunting I think.

    Suzy

    January 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

  4. I like the film. I have also read the book. I saw the film at Stockholms Fim Festival. Was it 2007? It is slow and haunting, given that you know how it will end. I gave it a 4/5 I think.

    Henke

    January 30, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    • I never think of it as slow, but I guess it is… I’m very prone to falling asleep watching low-key movies, but this is one that always keep me alert, completely wrapped up in the story, the music and the landscapes.

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 7:22 pm

  5. Into the Wild is the sort of film that has an effect on almost everyone who watches it. Everyone takes something different away from their viewing experience of it. I think got nearly as swept away as you did with this. While the road trip film isn’t a genre of film that’s on the top of my list, I really enjoyed Into the Wild. By the end of the film I wanted to jump in my car and just drive. But at the same time, felt the need to stay at home with the people I love and enjoy that as much as I could.

    Jaina

    January 30, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    • Exactly! You really want to drive away – but then return to your family, because that’s also the lesson. Maybe you should bring them along on the trip. 🙂

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 7:23 pm

  6. I enjoyed Into The Wild too (read the book after seeing the film though) – a beautifully shot film. I don’t seem to tire of road movies either….very difficult to pick a favourite though!

    Popcorn Nights

    January 30, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    • There are indeed many. But Into the Wild has a special place in my heart.

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 7:25 pm

  7. I absolutely love this film but I know people who hate it, mainly because they can’t empathise with McCandless giving up a good well-off life to go slum it. I suppose they do have a point to some extent but I think it’s great and great to hear some love for the soundtrack. As a huge Pearl Jam and Vedder fan, this just completely made the film for me.

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    January 30, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    • The soundtrack is half the enjoyment of this movie. Seriously. Pearl Jam is a band i definitely should search out and explore. I’ve just heard a few songs and I love, love, love it.

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 7:27 pm

  8. Jessica, it took me a while to catch up with Into the Wild. For some reason, I didn’t expect to like it, but I was totally wrong. I don’t read the movie as Penn idealizing what McCandless does. Instead, it feels tragic to me that he doesn’t recognize the connections he builds along the way. I’ll also echo the comments about the great work from Eddie Vedder on the soundtrack, which really makes the movie. There are a lot of excellent supporting performances too, especially from Hal Holbrook. I even liked Vince Vaughn in this, so that’s saying a lot.

    Dan Heaton

    January 30, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    • Better late than never Dan! I agree with everything you say here. So many wonderful performances here. Hal Holbrook is one of my favorites. I also found Kristin Stewart rather sweet. Penn has really brought out the best of everyone!

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 7:33 pm

  9. I’m adding this to my watchlist. Thanks!

    Steph

    January 30, 2013 at 5:51 pm

  10. The road movie concept also appeals to me, mainly because I do travel a lot. I relished those memorable road trips I had in college and I always find an excuse to jump on a plane frequently.
    Into The Wild is certainly one of the best in this “genre”. My personal favourite is probably The Motorcycle Diaries. That movie is subtle but powerfully philosophical and emotional. I would reccomend it if you haven’t seen it yet. It also has wonderful music.

    Squasher88

    January 30, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    • I haven’t seen it, but now I’ll keep my eyes open for it. Thank you for the recommendation!

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm

  11. I like Penn both as an actor and director. This movie is not one of my favorites among Penns work (The Pledge & The Indian Runner) but it´s good. I haven´t read the book but the way I see it Chis is walking towards is own doom and neglecting all the chanses he gets to awoid it. Someday I will watch it again.

    filmitch

    January 30, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    • It’s certainly worth a rewatch. I honestly think Chris is a bit unlucky. He did a lot of mistakes, but would have survived if it wasn’t for one crucial. But again: I guess it’s pointless to wonder: “what if…”. Because if he had survive I doubt we’d ever heard about him.
      I should watch more of Penn’s movies.

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 9:18 pm

  12. A truly great movie, and well worth thinking about afterwards. I also agree with you on the “pointless and unnecessary” theme.

    Pladd

    January 30, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    • Since it’s my daughter’s favorite movie, I’ve seen it a LOT, both the entire film and as something running in the background. But I’m still not tired of it. That’s a sign of greatness.

      Jessica

      January 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

  13. Liked it when I saw it at the Sthlm Film Festival. Liked a little bit more at a rewatch. But not my favorite road movie though. 😉

    Jojjenito

    January 30, 2013 at 8:49 pm

  14. Splendid post. I like road movies too. My favorite is probably Little Miss Sunshine. I liked but didn’t love Into the Wild. The cast and music were very good but I just didn’t like Chris at all and couldn’t empathize.

    “I’m more of a squishy who likes to travel, but in the end prefers a comfortable hotel room to a low budget bedbug infested youth hostel” LOL, we’re the same.

    fernandorafael

    February 1, 2013 at 8:08 am

    • Awww. I’m sorry you didn’t like Chris. I think he’s pretty wonderful. Maybe it’s my maternal instincts that come at play. 🙂

      Jessica

      February 1, 2013 at 10:47 pm

  15. I saw a documentary about Sean Penn and the making of this one. Looks like it meant a lot to him also, to make this film about this mans fate.

    This is also a very good example of a film in this months subject in Filmspanarna… 🙂

    But I love Alvin Straight more!

    Steffo

    February 1, 2013 at 10:15 am

    • Oh, a doc? I need to check it out. I’ve always loved behind-the-scene films!

      Jessica

      February 1, 2013 at 10:46 pm

  16. but but but, little miss sunshine

    Dwism (@dwisms)

    February 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    • Oh, I love that one too. But the emotional impact is not on par with the one I get from Into the Wild.

      Jessica

      February 1, 2013 at 10:45 pm

  17. It’s a great movie, Penn is a very talented actor and director. And I’ve now gone and gotten me the soundtrack, it’s good too 🙂

    As for best road movie. Mmm, maybe Stand by me?

    carrandas

    February 1, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    • Glad you got yourself the soundtrack. It’s so good! Perfect company for a car ride. I too love Stand by me. It’s been a while sine I saw it, but I’d love to revisit it.

      Jessica

      February 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm


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