My favorite road movie of all time
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
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:
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