Into the Wild is an adaptation of a book by John Krakauer. The book was an expansion of an article written by Krakauer that appeared in Outside, based on the journals of Christopher McCandless.
The movie starts at a run. The main character Christopher McCandless (Emille Hirsch) is walking into the wilderness to presumably live off the land, with everything he needs on his back. The story then backtracks, beginning two years ago at college graduation and then skipping ahead in chapters titled, describing the development of any man. Intermittent are scenes of the present with Christopher in Alaska as he learns to survive completely independent of society.
The “chapters” that take place in the past establish that Christopher’s relationship with his parents have much to do with his drive to get away from society. After leaving his home, burning his money and destroying his car in a flash flood, he sets off in the tradition of the tramp, fueled by Jack London, Boris Pasternak, and Lord Byron. He hitch-hikes, canoes and jumps trains across America, meeting many characters, whom although seem to be on the fringe of society themselves, require him to explain himself…why go to Alaska to live alone? Do your parents know where you are?
The question of the necessity of human relationships is really the driving force of this film. Christopher sees the dynamic created by his parents relationship to eachother as poisonous and dishonest, and this becomes a metaphor for all of society – sickness and dependency on power, violence and self worth based on materiality prevail. Who doesn’t want to flee from that at times?
As Christopher makes his way across America, the people he meets seem to cling to him. He seems to embody the essence of “freedom” that they all flirt with, yet he is without the fears that keep`them “stuck”. He even tells one old man who is still mourning the death of his wife and child after 40 years, “You’re wrong if you think the only source of joy comes from personal relationships.”
This film is, in my estimation, almost flawless. There is a scene in which the main character gets up on the stage with a love interest and they do a duet that borders on cheesy, but I really have to hand it to director Sean Penn, he does an amazing job. “Into the Wild” is not only an adventure film with stunning natural cinematography, but an exceptionally well written script that explores the human condition, from the point of view of a young man full of ideals and a lifetime before him.