Raw, idiom: 14 a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Saw Sean Penn's latest labor of love, "Into The Wild" tonight, and well, let's just say I'm pretty fucking shattered. Wrecked. Toast.

The film is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer's 1996 best-seller, a non-fiction journalistic version of Christopher McCandless's life and death on a romantic adventure in the Alaskan wilderness. I first read the book as an undergrad in a killer seminar on Religion & the American Wilderness, and loved it, of course, for a thousand reasons, but honestly struggled to imagine how a film adaptation could be even close to as successful or compelling. Somehow, Penn's done the job.

First of all, Emile Hirsch as McCandless rocks the whole scruffy-big-haired-wanderlust-filled-ideologue role. The kid is too fuckin dreamy for words. Between the wild curls and the kayaking athleticism and the anti-consumerism shit and the Tolstoy-toting nature boy loner thing, I nearly had to leave the theater. Hirsch is charismatic and pensive and somehow perfectly encapsulates the naivete and cynicism of the young McCandless.

The vistas are breathtaking, as well; Penn shot everything on location, so you've got hours of South Dakotan and Californian and Arizonan (Arizonian?) and Alaskan natural beauty to swim around in. The film's playing in IMAX format downtown and given all the sweeping views and stunning sunsets, I might just have to catch it again in widescreen format. As a piece of nature appreciation it's a pleasure in and of itself, let alone the additional crinkly-eyed, wide-smiling looseness that is Hirsch in action.

Something of the romance and anti-establishment wanderlust of writers like Thoreau and Emerson seeps into all of what you see here, and it would be easy to romanticize the (well, yes) stupidity of McCandless's cross-country trek into poetry soundbites and wilderness songs. But Penn does succeed in showing some of the folly and naivete of McCandless's journey, as well. The familiar temptation (well, to me, at least) of being that guy alone in the forest with just books and sky and birdsong for company is tempered by the human connections the film highlights as unintended but gracious and life-giving benefits of the journey. And the existentialist questions raised - about the inanity of false suburban complacency, the emptiness of urban American consumeristic lives, and the destruction that results from the kinds of technology that push us further and further from real experiences in nature - will resonate with you long after the closing credits roll.

Eddie Vedder's tumbling soundtrack warrants a mention, too, as do the performances of Catherine Keener and Vince Vaughn in supporting roles. A part of me will doubtless always harbor a bit of the fantasy of a Walden-esque life of my own, but "Into The Wild" at least reminds me that if I ever do decide to throw down and head for the hills, a) take a class in edible plants first, and b) prepare to ditch the vegetarian thing and eat some moose.

As long as Hirsch is there to share a drumstick, I'm game.


Kofi Martin said…
I feel compelled to read the book and see the film! Mikah recommended your blog. It's tons of fun! Love the "raw" concept. I'm a clarinet student at UM! Kofi's the name.
Anonymous said…
"hot boys with big hair", indeed. for some reason i find this endlessly amusing; p'rhaps b'cause i've been reading many wordy dissertations upon 'into the wild', and have just scrawled many hundreds of heavily-hyphenated words of my own. nice work, champ.

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