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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …