Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Heart's Wilderness
Mrs. Rants and I went to see Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild a week ago and both of us really liked it. I thought Penn might have outdone Krakauer in examining the emotional and philosophical depths that animated Chris McCandless, the subject of the book and movie. For those unfamiliar with the book, it is a biography of a lonely young man who roamed the American west soon after graduating from university. McCandless dropped out of touch from his parents and sister and indulged in various odd jobs and adventures as he sought for life's meaning. He eventually journeyed to Alaska where he set out into wilderness and found refuge in an abandoned bus left rusting near the banks of a river. McCandless lived in hermit fashion, finding companionship in the library of Russian novels he brought with him into the wild. After weeks of solitude, McCandless starved to death, brought down by a misidentification of susposedly edible plants. His body was eventually discovered by hunters, bringing forth a posthumous reunification with his parents.

What I liked about Penn's dipiction was it dwelt less on trying to excuse McCandless (the ultimate point of Krakauer's book) and instead celebrated an untamed joy that fueled McCandless' pursuit of meaning. One cannot know for sure what ultimately drove McCandless. Krakauer followed McCandless' track and interviewed the people he crossed paths with. From their recollections it was clear that McCandless was a vagabond searching for meaning in companionship and solitude. And he left life-changing impressions with everyone he met. Penn does well to depict this, reveling in the off-the-grid communes and fringes of American wilderness where McCandless crossed paths with people living on society's edge. Bravo to Penn for spending time in these off-kilter landscapes: the Dakota prairie, the Burning Man-esque environs of the Salton Sea, the Alaskan Taiga. The movie was like a great 2 hours of the Travel Channel filled with interesting characters and hidden America.

More than this, Penn's movie is a meditative exploration of a wilderness of the heart, examining how far one will go to find the purpose of life after casting off material posessions, career expectations, familial commitments, and attachment to others. McCandless went to the Alaskan wilderness in order to find answers to the wilderness that was in his heart. Penn suggests covincingly that in this northern wilderness McCandless found what he went there in search of. As he lay dying, Penn's moral may be that in a flip-side to Sartre, life is other people. Penn's conclusion includes McCandless meditating on Tolstoy:
And all people live, Not by reason of any care they have for themselves, But by the love for them that is in other people.


At 11:29 PM, Blogger gagknee said...

gotta add that to my list of movies to see. suffice it to say, my review won't be as eloquent as yours.


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