On Scene: “Into the Wild” | SteamboatToday.com

On Scene: “Into the Wild”

Margaret Hair

Steamboat Springs — To a lot of people – especially those who live in Alaska – Christopher McCandless committed suicide. — To a lot of people – especially those who live in Alaska – Christopher McCandless committed suicide.

— To a lot of people – especially those who live in Alaska – Christopher McCandless committed suicide.

In August 1992, McCandless was discovered dead of starvation on a bus in the Alaskan wilderness. The article Jon Krakauer wrote about the incident received more response than any other in Outside magazine’s history, and his follow-up book on the topic, “Into the Wild,” was criticized for being too sympathetic to a rich kid who didn’t know what he was doing.

Sean Penn’s adaptation of that book by the same name is equally sympathetic.

McCandless, an Emory University graduate from a wealthy family, went into a summertime North looking for truth. He went without a map, and if it hadn’t been for the helping hands depicted in Krakauer’s book and Penn’s film, he would have gone without tools or boots.

Before setting toward Alaska, McCandless – insisting on being called Alexander Supertramp, which is a hell of a moniker – spent two years scooting around America on foot after giving away $24,000 in savings and burning the rest of his cash.

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From the way Penn depicts him – going down rapids with no experience and no helmet, train hopping without realizing it’s illegal, living for weeks in the desert – it’s surprising McCandless lived as long as he did.

The amazing thing about Penn’s film, then, is that you leave the theater not mad at Chris, but glad he was willing to abandon everything he didn’t think was important.

As played by Emile Hirsch, McCandless is friendly, idealistic and relentlessly moral. He doesn’t want things and gets mad when his dysfunctional parents try to give him handouts. He quotes Jack London, Henry David Thoreau and Boris Pasternak so much, you begin to wonder if he had his own words.

Penn overplays that angle with large yellow journal entries and select literary passages emblazoned in huge letters across the screen. But the way he puts so much emphasis on McCandless’s attraction to those writers helps him make a character out of someone we know relatively little about.

With daring cinematography by Eric Gautier (“Motorcycle Diaries”) and filming locations everywhere that McCandless went, Penn’s film inspires the initial reaction Krakauer’s book did – this kid was dumb – then endears itself slowly.

By the end, he’s painted McCandless as someone we should be envious of, and his adventures and ideals as something to admire.

“Into the Wild” is playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.