Friday, October 5, 2007
INTO THE WILD (2007).........6/10
"Exile to Exile: no man who loves is free."
There are films that can ensnare you from their first moments, perhaps by a solemn note, a mood, or a stirring image. ‘INTO THE WILD’ is not one of those films per se, but only because it is so actively about having no roots, something that carries into its entire structure. Even its most resplendant or revealing moments are kept momentary so as to avoid a hampering or irresponsible romanticism (not that its void of it). Chris McCandless, self called Alex Supertramp and sublimely portrayed by Emile Hirsch, is 23 years old and decides to rightly abandon his upper middle class cacoon as part of a "walden-esqu' rebellion after graduating from college. He wanders westward, organically migrating from place to place, never staying too long, and never losing sight of his prevailing goal…"a great Alaskan adventure," despite the beckoning of human relationships wherever he goes. What's important about Alex is that his transience never translates to a ‘non-presence’ but rather an impending impermanence in everything but our observation of him. He has a notable, lasting, and authentic effect on every life he touches and the weight of that impact is emotionally palpable. Jan, the wayward ex-hippie he deeply befriends, says to him with a wounded but loving affection, “Just get your bag and go on. I don’t think I can handle a hug,” as he leaves her company for the last time on his journey north. Perhaps people see in him an old spirit recapturing its boundlessness, and it indeed intoxicates. Its a curious thing that this boy of 23 is the bearer of wisdom and soul to a host of seasoned bodies. He almost makes them seem like children, but by harmless default.
INTO THE WILD is a progressively entrenching story, brilliantly weaving two, forward linear threads that reveal ever more of themselves and each other, leading to an appreciation of the inevitability and necessity of Alex's initial departure (something that endures but also grows as his travels bear fruit). Structure is a key element to the story, but mostly in terms of how we've come to know Alex's exploits historically. In terms of the research done for the book and subsequent film, the first comprehensive information attained was Alex's journal of Alaska, so this is where we begin. For the author, the rest of the process was a hopscotch search for significant people mentioned in Alex's earlier documentation. Like the author and perhaps Alex's meandering memory while in the wild, we periodically jump between threads, appreciating ever more his honesty and aspiration, and the toll it took on his family. As each moment passed to the next, I was swept more swiftly along (too gentle a term), all the while feeling a kind of subtly wrenching impending loss even as Alex was ever present to me, as though in every encounter I took upon myself both Alex’s insatiable drive and the sadness of those scorned by his transience. The sweeping sensation I speak of is less the elegant breed, and more like the scene in which Alex stumbles into the raging Alaskan river that has widened its neck and sharpened its bite since last he crossed, threatening to rush him downstream and cutting him off from any escape. "I am literally trapped in the wild," he writes in his jornal. Its strange, but I was so uniquley moved by the exponential quality of my experience of this film; its nakedness, its naivety, its romanticism, its fairness, its splendor, its simplicity, and its unsparingness, that I can’t really come to criticize it, for if I did, it would be like spitting in the face of one of the most genuine human ambitions…to be free in truth, and to understand that freedom has its own tenacity, for in many ways it grinds against the arch of law and convention that welds our society together. INTO THE WILD, beyond schema and splendor, is an earnest embodiment of Alex's singular drive, and it is utterly convincing and above-board in its manner.
The pertinence and power of Sean Penn's film is helped greatly in terms of timing, for now it would be exceedingly more difficult, if not impossible for Alex to make the affecting journey he did without being arrested, detained, fined, or reprimanded in some way, particularly as a result of most post 9/11 security measures. He serendipitously made his pilgrimage on that all too shallow precipice between the fear bred by the cold war and the fear bred by the war on terror. In a way Alex was fighting his own war during this "peacetime", a primordial war that is both genuine and borrowed (He's never shy about his influences and often quotes Tolstoy and Thoreau to articulate his attitudes. "Jack London is king" he declares once). Alex's is an existential war with tactics ruled by passivity, not inaction mind you. His weapons are books, a rabid intellect, an unfailing sincerity, and the resilient feet that carry him from the exile of loveless privilege and obligation to an exile of self-discovery and broken borders. In that sense, Alex is perched upon yet another precipice between two polarities, one he rejected and one he aspired too (even though both leave him quite alone).
In Indian /Hindu culture reincarnation is a staple belief. It is understood that each incarnation of physical life is a process of learning, suffering, and purification until the individual is ultimately delivered to enlightenment, at which point the soul is free of the exhaustive cylcle. While watching Alex strive in his objections and survive in solemnity, I couldn't help but think of those individuals who choose to live outside of Indian society as posessionless beggars or "untouchables," so that they might suffer or endure enough to be finally released from cyclical captivity in life. Alex sees the looming cage around himself, but has an equal eye for the resplendent beauty beneath and beyond the superstructure, something he's "doesn't mind calling God." What he seeks "rather than love, money, faith, fame, or fairness...is truth." Every step he takes is toward truth, both in the moment and aggregate. At every opportunity, he forfeits his wisdoms (sometimes words forfeited to him by other wise men) in an effort to reduce and relinquish whatever holds him to this world of reason. "If we admit that life can be ruled by reason, then we destroy the possibilities of existence."
Not to divulge too much, but Alex finds his truth, and it is a somber chord struck to the core. Like the tortured composer who plays a sharp note and smiles on its perspective and healing asperity, Alex writes his epiphany in the margins of Doctor Zhivago with a heartbreaking lag and concision and resigns to its finality bathed in cold and light. For this reason, there is nothing of failure in his journey, though "some blunders and absurdities had crept in," for his greatest goal is met with wide open eyes and a smile.