I remember reading "Into The Wild" by Jon Krakauer, not long after finishing Krakauer's better known second book, Into Thin Air. The latter was the riveting story of an ill-fated climb on Mt. Everest. It landed atop the literary Mt. Everest - the New York Times bestseller list.
After plowing through that book, I got my hands on "Into the Wild." It is the true story of Chris McCandless, a twenty-something college grad from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. He rebelled against his wealthy upbringing by giving over twenty thousand dollars of leftover college funds to charity, and set of an a quest to travel around the country on a "spiritual" quest.
After travelling through Arizona, California, and South Dakota, he eventually reached his ultimate destination, the wilderness outside of Fairbanks Alaska. Unfortunately, he was ill equipped and ill trained to deal with the harsh conditions, and unfortunately died of starvation after 112 days of his odyssey.
This happened in 1992. In 2007 Sean Penn would make a movie, based on Krakauer's 1996 book. As he explains in one of the DVD features, author Krakauer saw a brief article about the discovery of McCandless' body, and was subsequently asked to write a magazine article about Chris' journey. Krakauer has his own three week Alaskan adventure and related to McCandless in many ways.
Penn also explains that he had read the book and wanted to make a film about the fascinating story. It took ten years, but the family agreed to his vision of the film.
Emile Hirsch (Milk) was cast as McCandless. William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden portray his parents, and Jena Malone plays Chris' sister Carine. The other characters are Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn,) a grain harvester in Carthage, SD, a hippie couple traveling the Western US by camper, and Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) who lives in Salton City, CA. McCandless befriends the old retiree, and they spend a few weeks bonding. There are also some scenes in a hippie commune of sorts, named Slab City, where he meets a teenage girl played by Kristen Stewart of "Twilight"fame.
Along the way, McCandless, who has taken on the new "identity" of Alexander Supertramp, paddles a kayak down the Colorado River from Arizona to Mexico and travels back up to Los Angeles. After a day of hanging out with the drifters and realizing how much he despises society, he resumes his journey. Eventually he makes it to Alaska, where he goes off onto the Stampede Trail. He declines the offer of additional supplies, other than what he has provisioned for himself, although he does accept a pair of wading boots.
The movie alternates between scenes at the abandoned bus where he makes his base camp, and flashbacks of the story leading up to his arrival in the wilderness. The scenery is absolutely spectacular. Director Penn traveled to many of the actual locations where McCandles stopped on his journey. Filming actually took place in thirty-seven different locations, from Cantwell, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Healy in Alaska, to the Grand Canyon, and Lake Mead in Arizona. The real Slab City and Salton City in California, as well as Carthage South Dakota were also settings for the film. Even a few key scenes were shot in Algodones Mexico and Laughlin, NV.
In addition, singer Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam contributed some original songs to complement the score by Michael Brook. Vedder's haunting voice and vocal style capture the essence of the film in a terrific way.
The cinematography is fabulous, and the attention to detail is amazing. The crew even reconstructed the abandoned transit bus the McCandless lived in by combining parts from two old 1942 buses.
This movie is amazing, the acting is sensational. Hirsch by the end of the movie bears an uncanny resemblance to the real McCandless.
It is a tragic story of a young man who made a fascinating cross country trip to shed his material possessions and live off the land and the folks he met along the way. Unfortunately, he never lived to finish the journey. However, he was very literate and left notes and a journal that helped explain his actions.
The DVD has several excellent features including two documentaries, one on the story of McCandless, and another about the making of the film. I give the DVD a rating of grand slam - four stars. Buy it or rent it. It's not a downer, but it will make quite an impression on anyone who views it.
The DVD The Book