Despite the rain and cold, a capacity crowd packed into Campbell Hall last Wednesday night for the screening of Sean Penn’s Oscar-nominated film, Into the Wild. The story is based on the real life experiences of Chris McCandless.
His explorations into the wilderness of the human soul and the natural wilderness of America make for a powerful film.
The natural beauty showcased throughout the film is what really steals the show.
We meet Chris, played by Emile Hirsch, when he arrives in Alaska. For the first ten minutes of the film, he does not speak more than three words; we just go along with him as he makes his way through a remote snow-covered Alaskan forest. We learn where he is through thoughts written on the screen in the form of a postcard.
The story then takes us back two years and we learn that this journey into Alaska is the last step in Chris’s attempt to find himself and come to terms with a turbulent childhood.
Throughout, it is obvious that Chris loves the land but he needs to come to terms with people. Isolated California deserts, Midwest cornfields and the wilderness of Alaska may not seem like ideal places to do this but he succeeds.
Chris learns from everyone he meets including Jan and Rainey, a traveling hippie couple, who help Chris understand his own parents’ relationships. Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker play these characters with graceful subtlety and they are not the only supporting cast that draws your attention. Jena Malone, as his sister, gives voice more than face to the grief of the family Chris has left behind.
Hal Holbrook received an Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as Ron Franz, a lonely man who is one of the final pieces that show Chris people matter as much as his freedom.
Chris lives nomadically off the land as often as he can but he does not leave civilization entirely, mid-way though his journey, Chris finds himself in Los Angeles and it becomes clear that he does not fit into urban life any longer.
The city is shown in a series of quick cuts at night, all of the lights and people seem glaringly artificial and we long for the beauty of nature right along with Chris.
On the other side of this, it takes total isolation for Chris to realize that he needs people and does not want to be alone. This was his true lesson and ours too.
Lucky for us, a few clicks on Netflix or a trip to the rental store are the only journey we need to take to bring the beauty of Alaska to Santa Barbara.