AMBITIOUS in the grandest sense, writer/director/co-producer Sean Penn's "Into The Wild" is a two-and-a-half-hour epic that ebbs and flows with the rhythm of the life of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch). It's a movie about his life, life in post-industrial society, the tramps of that society, and nature - and it is miraculously successful.
For many young expats in Shanghai, myself included, much of the film hits close to home. A central angle of the film involves McCandless' abandonment of his dysfunctional if sadly typical family of the 1990s/millennium. After graduating college in order to fulfill his family's expectations, he embarks on his adventures, forsaking his past identity, from his name outward. This includes refusing to contact his family in any way. As would be expected, this causes them anguish.
McCandless justifies his actions not because it would be any sort of nuisance but as a necessary step in his spiritual development. In order to go fully "into the wild," he must cut the ties that bind.
This raises the question: Should McCandless be lauded as a modern-day Buddha, or is he an insolent son for disrespecting the people who raised and loved him? Furthermore, to what ends must McCandless go before he fills fulfilled in his mission?
These questions are raised with great delicacy but heavyweight by Sean Penn. His camera brings the ideas to the forefront by pushing his cast to the background, content many times to allow characters to function in the corner of the frame in order to soak in the vast scenery, whether golden wheat farms or white-topped waves. When the camera does pull in on the characters - a closeup of a hippie couple who adopt Christopher becoming intimate in a van, or Chrisopher's dead gaze as he struggles for food in the wilderness - the magnificent cast responds with sensitivity and sincerity.
Some critics of the film and the real life McCandless have expressed antipathy towards the (they would argue) heedless protagonist. Whether a warning shot or a call to arms, or both, "Into the Wild" proves indelible.
'Into The Wild' (2007)
Where to see it: Vienna Cafe (25 Shaoxing Rd)
When to see it: November 29, 7:30pm
What to see: An adaptation of the book by Jon Krakauer that follows the real life adventures of Christopher McCandless, who gave away his entire US$24,000 in savings after college to find spiritual fulfillment in life outside of society, including the ultimate "great Alaska adventure."