The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Archive for the ‘Into the Wild’ Category

My favorite road movie of all time

with 34 comments


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:
Except fear
Fiffis filmtajm
Flmr Filmblogg
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den
Mode + Film
Moving Landscapes
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord 

Written by Jessica

January 30, 2013 at 8:00 am

A note from the management and my top five mountain and trekking movies

with 23 comments

Dear customers! Dear friends, guests, readers, writers and commenters! Dear cinephiles!

It’s time for me to leave the protective darkness in the theatre and head out in the real world for a little while. During my vacation there will be very little activity here. There might be some occasional stray post that I’ve prepared, but mostly it will be quiet.

My plan for the next week is to go trekking in the Swedish mountains. So I came up with the idea to make a list post, presenting five of my favorite movies about  favourite movies about trekking, climbing and survival in the mountains.

Are you ready? Here we go!


This film is based on the true story about a rugby who crashed with an airplane in the middle of the Andes Mountains and what the few survivors went through until they finally were rescued. I read the book as a teenager, not once but several times. I don’t think it was the fact that they ended up eating from the dead bodies to survive that tickled me. It was more about the entire situation, the group dynamics and the spiritual development they went through. At two hours the film could never be as detailed as the book, but it was still a very good one.

Into the Wild
It’s often considered a matter of fact that a film that is based on a book never can be as good as the original source, provided that you read the book first. It may be true in many cases, but not for Into the Wild. I read Krakauer’s book about Christopher McCandless escape into the wilderness long before I watched the film, but while the book was OK, it couldn’t match the film in terms of being emotionally engaging. If it’s closer to the truth or not I obviously can’t say. But it has stunningly beautiful cinematography, great acting performances and a soundtrack by Eddie Vedder that I never get tired of listening to.

Touching the Void
I think I’ve read Joe Simpson’s book Touching the Void at least three times and I’ll probably read it a few more times during my lifetime. It’s more than just a survival story; he’s an extraordinary good writer as well. I already knew every step and turn he took on his way back to the camp after his partner had been forced to cut the rope due to an accident. But it’s one thing to just read the words and another thing to see the actual places on screen. The documentary was excellent.

127 Hours
The idea to make an entire movie about a guy who was stuck with his arm under a rock sounds a bit crazy. It’s not exactly cinematic. How long would it take before the viewers start to scratch themselves? But despite the challenge or maybe because of it, Danny Boyle wanted to do this. As with the rest of the survival movies, I had already read the book and like everyone else I knew how the film would end before I started to watch it. And yet I was on my edge all way through. Danny Boyle sure pulled this one off, and so did James Franco, who is excellent in the role as the climber.

The Way Back
This film begins with an escape from a camp under Stalin’s terror regime in Siberia, but after a while the bad guys tune out and it turns into a story about man vs nature as the prisoners continue on their quest to cross deserts and mountains to their destination in India. Considering the scale of it and the multitude of magnificent landscape views, I wish I had seen it in a theatre.

A source of inspiration
There’s my selection of mountain themed movies and I realize that it probably looks a bit nutty. So much darkness, misery, death and disease! How can anyone possibly get inspired to head out for trekking in the mountains after watching those films? If they have any message, it would be that you’re safer and more comfortable if you stay at home.

Buy on some level I think they give me some kind of fuel: a spark to try really hard and not give up at whatever – I’m sure – comparatively minor obstacle I might encounter during my week away.

If I get tired of the dried food I can always think that I’ve got plenty to eat compared to what they had in Alive.

If I’ll need to take off my trousers crossing a river, walking through freezing cold water, I still know that I will be able to cross it unlike what happened in Into the Wild.

If I’m unlucky and make a slip step I might hurt my wrist, but medical help will never be further away than 20 kilometres and if I break my leg someone will pick me up. I won’t have to crawl on the ground for long stretches, like Joe in Touching the Void did.

I’m in company and people know where I am. If the unlikely event would happen that all of us would get stuck under a rock, there would be people who would go looking for us.  We wouldn’t be on our own as in 127 hours. There’s no overhanging risk that I would have to cut off my own arm.

And while the way probably will feel very long at times, it’s laughable compared to the stretches covered in The Way Back.

The weather forecast says it will rain for a week, with outdoor temperatures just above the freezing point. But as soon as I think back to any of those five movies, my small nuggets of discomfort will be put into proportion. And that’s why they’re so inspirational.

And now it’s time to say goodbye. Don’t be shy while I’m gone. Help yourself! Check the fridge for leftovers and the archives for blog posts you may have missed. Have a drink in the bar and a comfortable seat and I’ll be back in no time.

See you! Cheers!


Written by Jessica

July 13, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Travelling through the movies – a 10 list for your enjoyment

with 19 comments

To quote a movie I didn’t care for particularly much (apart from as a cure for insomnia): I’m not here.

As this post is coming up, I’m most likely resting my feet, sipping a drink of ouzo after spending the entire day walking around and admiring the remains of the classical Athens.

I’m in a different café than this one, even though I might very well be wrapped up in a film related conversation since the friend I’m visiting also is a cinephile.

But don’t despair! I thought I’d give you a little something to much on before I return to blogging around the middle of next week. As my mind got more and more filled with travel lust I naturally started to think about movies I’ve seen that are about travelling, one way or another and I decided to compile them to a list.

Some of them won’t come as a surprise; they’re frequent on this kind of lists. But I’ve also included a few films that are old or odd enough to not necessarily be the first you come to think of.

The idea was to give different perspectives on travelling.

1. The world in between

The Terminal (Steven Spielberg, 2004)

Airport magic. Is there anything like it? People, all those people. Strangers and yet somehow related. We’re all Travellers, going somewhere or leaving something behind. Closing doors, opening doors in our lives. We’re meeting in this place outside of all places. A neutral territory, a world between the worlds, belonging to everyone and no one. I look at their faces, at their clothes, the way they’re moving, their luggage and I turn into a Sherlock Holmes wannabe, making stories in my mind about their past and their future.

If I wasn’t a such a sensible woman and if the parking fees were a little lower I’d probably go to the airport once in a while just to sit there, watching airplanes landing and taking off, sitting my coffee.

Admittedly the squatter in The Terminal has other reasons for not leaving the airport than romanticising about travelling. But still – an entire movie that takes place in a flight terminal. You have to love it.

2. Unwillingly

The Accidental Tourist (Lawrence Kasdan 1988)

Cities over the world look more and more alike each other. The Swedish H&M retail is established in San Francisco.  And I regularly have a lunch sandwich at Subway in my hometown. While convenient (you don’t need to think things over, you just pick the same sandwich as you did 5 000 kilometers away), it’s also pretty saddening.

Add to this our computer-like phones, which keep us connected with anyone in the world 24/7 if we want and travelling isn’t quite what it used to be.

But I know someone who wouldn’t mind this development: William Hurt’s character in The Accidental Tourist. He makes a living on writing guide books to help people who hate travelling but have to do it in their job to make the journey as much homelike as possible so they’ll barely notice they’re abroad. At the point when this film came out the thought was pretty absurd. And now… we’ll we’re basically living his dream. Food for thought.

3. Train nostalgia

The Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974)
I remember the first time I read Agatha Christie’s crime novel The Murder on the Orient Express. I must have been about 12 years old and was completely wrapped up in it and SHOCKED by the conclusion. One after one I had suspected everyone in the party and it turned out to be… Oh, well, you know I guess. I was so taken by it and so saddened that it was over that I immediately read it a second time. Surprisingly enough it turned out that the murderer was the same one.

Nothing beats travelling by train when it comes to putting you in the right travel mode. The soft thumping sound is hypnotizing and soothing, either you decide to spend the night staring into the darkness, occasionally broken by bypassing villages, or you allow yourself to drift into the sweet sort sleep that only a moving train can offer.

As of the murderer I don’t care too much at this point. It’s all about the train.

4. On the run

Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
It’s been a while since I watched this one, so I don’t remember the details and I have no idea if it still holds up after twenty years. But I’d sure like to find out. I remember it as a kick-ass film, picturing two empowered women on a road-trip, taking control over their own lives. It passed the Bechdeltest with wide margin. It felt refreshing and new at the time it was launched and when I think about it I realize that this kind of movie still is pretty unusual after all those years. Strong female characters. How many of those do we get to see?

5. So alien!

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)
I’m a science fiction fan, so of course I wanted to include a movie about space travel on my list. While I love Star Trek’s mission to explore and grandness of 2001, I finally went for the original version of Solaris. Among all aliens space travellers encounter, I think this one is the most alien. If mankind ever will travel so far in space that we’ll encounter other species, I imagine we’d end up in the same difficulties in communication.

Be warned if you’re a cinema snoozer like me. It’s on the slow side and you’d better load up with a lot of coffee to get through it. Another tip is to read the source material, Stanislaw Lem’s novel with the same name. I think it makes a good companion and gives a better understanding of the movie.

6. A journey into misery I

The Flight of the Eagle (Ingenjör Andrés luftfärd, Jan Troell 2011)
All my life I’ve been intrigued by the Swedish Arctic Balloon Expedition to the North Pole, led by the engineer S.A. Andrée.

The expedition ended in disaster. The balloon fell to the ground and the expedition members, badly equipped and prepared, died eventually. No one knew about what had happened to them until 33 years later, when their last camp was discovered.

In the cold a lot of items had been preserved, including diary notes, which gave a fair picture of what had happened. Those sources inspired to a fictional book, which in turn inspired to this movie starring Max von Sydow among others. It’s a story about vanity, about how PR, politics and other interests can make you caught up in a web of half lies until there is no choice but to go forward, even if you’ve lost your faith in the project. And it’s a story about what happens in the group of three men, trying to survive in the arctic with all odds against them.

7. A journey into misery II

The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
Sometimes you’re not travelling for pleasure; you’re doing it in a final, desperate attempt to survive. And that’s the case with The Road, which is the darkest post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever watched, and also my favourite in the genre. I particularly like that you never get to know what happened, what disaster that has made mankind end up like this. It’s not important. Only survival matters.

8. Searching for something

Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)
When you read a book first and watch the film adaptation afterwards, you often end up liking the book better. Equally: if you watch a film first and then read the book it’s based on, you often prefer the film. That’s just how it seems to work. You know you shouldn’t compare them, but you end up doing it anyway because you can’t erase the tracks that the book had left in your mind. But Into the Wild is an exception to this rule. I had read Jon Krakauers biography about the young man who hitchhiked his way around America to end up in the wilderness in Alaska long before I watched the film adaptation, but I ended up liking the adaptation even better. The casting was perfect, the cinematography breathtaking and the score by Eddie Vedder is simply wonderful, one of my favorite soundtracks in film history.

The film has gotten some crap for idealizing stupid behavior leading to the unnecessary and meaningless death. I disagree with this. It’s very clear what mistakes he made and how he eventually realized this. But more than anything else, to me it’s a film about the exhilarating feeling of hitchhiking, of taking the day as it comes, of being young and on the road.

9. Connected and disconnected

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
Lost in Translation is my favourite movie. I’ve written about it before and I keep coming back to it, mentioning it again whenever I get the chance to. And where does it suit better than in a list over travel movies? It’s a concentrate of what travelling means to me, or at least a certain kind of travelling. Scarlett Johansen sitting in the window at the hotel, looking out over the foreign city in the night, far, far away from home, hits a note with me – I know that feeling. Bob and Charlotte are disconnected to the world but get a temporary connection to each other before they’ll continue their lives on different roads, like travellers do.

10. My most anticipated

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson 2012)
Doesn’t almost every fantasy movie contain some sort of travelling? Epic journeys – that’s what the entire genre is about. My first thought was that I’d include the long walk through Middle-Earth in the ring trilogy, but then I decided to look forward. The Hobbit even has the word “journey” in the title, what more could you ask for?

I’m not ashamed to say that The Hobbit is my most anticipated movie in 2012. I cherish the video diaries as they’re released (number six is just up in case you’ve missed it) and the few glimpses we’ve seen make me hopeful about the result. My only worry is that they’ll make the dwarves into too much of joke characters. I think dwarves deserve some respect too.

Final words
Our journey through travel movies has come to an end. As I said in the beginning of this post: I’m not here, but I will be back.

Meanwhile you can talk with each other. Which travel themed movie is your favourite and why? Share your stories about movies and travelling. And by all means – help yourself and enjoy whatever drinkables you may find in the bar.

See you around!



Written by Jessica

March 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm