Into The Wild
Into the wild is like watching a string of home movies with amazing cinematography. The rest of the film uses mismatched narrative styles and cheap graphic layovers to help convey a sort of scrapbook notation of the events that led up to Chris' final trek. Some are voiced over by his sister denoting a kind of eulogistic tone. These voice overs are particularly important to the films structure because they impose a certain sense of doom by suggesting an absence of Chris' presence.
Going by the self appointed name of Alexander Supertramp, Chris sets out for the open road in search of a more truthful, simple existence. The fact that we accept the journey on this merit is interesting unto itself. Other than a desire to escape from his parents influence, we don't really understand what Chris is specifically searching for or why Alaska is the answer. Along the way he meets several characters who befriend him and enlighten his journey. These moments are the most fun but also feel the most bloated and aimless. I mean that in a good way. These scenes are just moments that feel like smaller parts of a larger event and they are in no way self contained. Sean Penn does a great job of making these moments authentic without making them feel conventional. (Consider the boy with the big wheel hauling the Christmas tree across the frame.) I think this is his greatest strength as a director, and I have enjoyed all of his films for this reason.
I think everyone has dreamed of doing what Chris does at one time or another, and the film is very effective at serving that fantasy. If the film has a fault, it's that Penn romanticizes the journey a bit too much. Only three times does it get called into question. Vince Vaughn has a great turn as a wheat farmer here and offers up the first bit of Resistance followed by Kathryn Keener as a motherly hippy, and finally Hal Holbrook in a heart breaking scene. With one exception, Chris rarely has a unpleasant moment, or meats a unwelcoming person. There is however a tension buried under the surface for most of the film and as Chris' resolve to reach Alaska remains unbroken, it begins to surface. Roger Ebert calls it a fascinated dread.
I am a big fan of Sean Penn (directed) movies and I think this is his most ambitious and his best (although I don't think he has peaked). Consider the number of locations for this story and Sean Penn spends a lot time, a la Terrence Malick, evoking a feeling for each with abstract pieces. If the film is long, it feels even longer. I never grew anxious or bored during it's 140minutes but because of it's lack of conventional structure, I never got a sense of how to anticipate the ending. I loved the experience of watching this film and I didn't want it to end but I'm not sure about how to distill all of it's content into one clear message. This may be it's greatest strength. Some have argued Chris was an selfish idiot, and some have argued Chris was a hero.