Skip to main content

Empire List #473: Into the Wild

There is a small cinema in Quebec City located in a mall that is shaped just like a pyramid. That cinema mostly plays foreign movies or art films. The screens are tiny and whenever I go there most of the audience is above the age of 40 so I guess that qualifies it as an art house. It is called “Le Clap” although I am not sure if I would translate that literally into English. It would be kind of weird to say: “I went to the Clap to see “Into the Wild,”” which is what I did in the fall of 2007.

If I recall well it was my week off from university in Sherbrooke so I was in Quebec City at my mom’s place. As usual, all of the big movies were dubbed in French, which I hate, so we opted for a well-reviewed movie with Oscar potential directed by Sean Penn. The movie actually had English subtitles, which didn’t bother me: I used to learn Spanish by watching American movies with Spanish subtitles. Dubbing I hate, subtitles I don’t mind because they allow you to both enjoy the original dialogue and understand the story.

The story, based on real events, is intriguing especially for today’s culture even though it is set in 1990. Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsh) becomes disillusioned with life and the path that he feels his parents have imposed on him. As a result he decides to destroy his identity, change his name to Alexander Supertramp, give away whatever money he has and set off into the wild, specifically Alaska. Some college graduates like to backpack around Europe, Christopher chose to abandon society and reconnect with nature.

What a wild idea, especially today. There are people who have more gadgets than James Bond and are more connected than someone hooked into the matrix. Between Facebook, Twitter, Ipads, and Google, they barely have time to go for a walk in the woods. The idea of dropping everything and heading for the wilderness must seem as foreign to them as the planet Mars.

Yet by watching this movie you are reminded of what a beautiful planet we inhabit. Christopher’s journey takes him to the Grand Canyon, where nature has done works of art without the help of a chisel or a hammer. When he does reach Alaska, the absence of civilization and the beauty of nature are stunning.

As with all road movies Christopher meets an array of characters on his way to his destination. Appropriately some of these people also live outside of the bustling society that we know. These include a hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian H. Dierker), a harvester (Vince Vaughn), and a retiree (Hal Holbrook). The most significant of these is the retiree Ron Franz with whom Christopher bonds whiles staying with him for months. Ron even suggests he could adopt Christopher, but it seems more like a desperate attempt to keep him from going further north. He admires the young man’s lust for life, but he is afraid to see him walk away into the sunset all alone. He should be.

Like Christopher I have been to the Grand Canyon and I have seen some truly spectacular landscapes in this world. I can understand his desire to just get up one day and leave it all behind, but the problem with bailing out on civilization is that civilization will not bail you out if nature gives you trouble.

My dad is a geologist who used to work in Newfoundland, which is like Alaska, only with more unpredictable weather. It once snowed in July to give you an idea. Whenever my dad would go into the wild as part of a company project, he would not camp out with just a rifle, some supplies, and a nature books. He had pickup trucks, generators, satellite phones, and if need be, a helicopter. This is why man manages to survive in just about every environment on the planet: technology. It isolates us but keeps us connected at the same time. Nature is beautiful, but if you go into the wild, don’t go alone and don’t forget to tell people where you are going. Enjoy the journey, but make sure you can come back.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…