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Heroes of the Zeroes: Into the Wild

by on June 2, 2010
 

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.


“Into the Wild”
Rated R
2007

If Walt Whitman poems were films, they’d be 2007’s “Into the Wild” — a stirring American drama of comfort and conflict, abetted by equally resplendent cinematography, music and performances.

Writer/director Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s biography about Christopher McCandless rhapsodically mined the compelling contradictions of both America and the late McCandless — a culture’s vast soulfulness and its vapid emptiness, a majestic land’s splendor and danger, the ability of youth to be both damnably impulsive and tremendously instructive.

After graduating from college, McCandless purposely disappeared, donating savings to charity and tramping cross-country to what he didn’t know would be his final destination — a broken-down bus deep in the Alaskan wilderness.

Emile Hirsch beautifully evokes McCandless’s limber physicality and sometimes-foolhardy enthusiasm — writing in childish block letter and rechristening himself Alexander Supertramp.

McCandless’s journey included a series of emotional encounters with a passel of vagabonds, dreamers and loners — including Hal Holbrook in an unforgettable, Oscar-nominated turn as a man who’s lived longer alone than with family. The grandfatherly surrogacy he offers is touching and true, but, for Chris, acceptance is tantamount to abandoning his wandering-spirit quest to claim a unique experience.

Reality eventually trumped McCandless’s reveries, ill prepared as he was to live off a truly wild land. His was an idealism taken too far, but also an inspiration impossible to cut short. Even in its harrowing final moments, “Wild” achieved a spiritually transcendent pinnacle — the idea of ending one long, strange trip and plummeting into an even-greater unknown with both fear and elation.