Perhaps someday my friend and co-blogger Greg will return from his partially-Steppenwolf-imposed hiatus from The Culturephiles. Maybe he'll even grace this blog with a description of his experience! But until that blessed day arrives, I will hold down the fort here as best I can. Sorry if you are sick of my writing. Anyway, onward and upward.
At the passionate recommendation of many friends (also because I was interested), I watched Sean Penn’s film version of Into the Wild last night. I was hesitant to see the film, having not yet read the Jon Krakauer book first, but after it had been sitting on top of my TV in its Netflix sleeve for more than two months it became clear I was not going to get around to reading the book in a timely fashion, so I gave in. Now Into the Wild is happily on its way back to the Netflix gods, who are surely judging me for wasting so much money on one stupid disc. Plus, I can now speak intelligently with my friends about the film, and furthermore am feeling more compelled than ever to read the book! How about that.
My feelings on the movie itself are somewhat mixed overall, even though the recommendations I got were glowing. We here at Culturephiles know that you, both our readers, are too sophisticated to go for a simplistic rating system -- stars or letter grades or whatever. But if we did use those systems, I would give this film 3 ½ stars, or a B+. I liked it, didn’t love it like many of my friends. First things first: it is a beautiful film. Just gorgeous. And Emile Hirsch and the supporting cast are excellent. Really, I just have one mild complaint and one major. As is my wont, however, I will devote the majority of this post to the relatively few negatives.
Mild: I thought the direction was a little obtrusive at times. My fiancé remarked during one moment of spiritual and emotional crisis for our “hero” “Supertramp,” “this is like a bad European art film,” which didn’t seem too far off the mark. The direction was so sure-handed 90% of the time that it was especially unsettling to have a lot of weird, artsy effects every now and then. The audience ought to be trusted to understand those moments of crisis without a lot of crazy edits and color-effects, zooming and weird angles. (I'm put in mind a little bit of the unwatchable film-adaptation of another book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) In this film, that stuff isn't justified or necessary; Emile Hirsch is a good actor and can express those feelings without a lot of flashy directoral distractions.
My major complaint? Simply put, the voice-over narration by Christopher McCandless’ sister, played by poor, unsuspecting Jena Malone. Initially I was a little bit irritated at how excessive it seemed, how overwritten, how incomprehensible. By the time we were on voice-over monologue #4 or #5, I was ready to blow a gasket. My approximation of what these monologues were like:
(spoken in hushed, intimate tones by Malone, who actually gets a tip o’ the cap for making it through straight-faced)
Christopher never neglected an opportunity to forego the societal refractions that echoed into the abyss, one upon the other, unfettered by individual truths or meanings. Even when we were young, he was refreshed by incomparable understandings and stung by fatalistic deceptions, all in the same way that neglectful passions, microscopic evasions, and portentous undulations never failed to register like a clarion call in his passionate, soulful heart. I loved him.
As I mentioned, the first couple pretentious voice-overs like that are irritating, but ultimately forgivable in a poetic, soulful film like this one. But they just kept coming, one after another, wrenching me out of the experience of the movie again and again. I really, really hated them by the end. I also admit that I probably worked myself up over it, like when someone says “um” too much and then suddenly you find yourself unable to hear anything BUT the “um”s. Fortunately there was enough to enjoy and appreciate about the movie that the entire experience wasn’t ruined by the ponderous, insistent monologues.
Specifically, the cast was excellent across the board. Hal Holbrook was obviously worthy of mention (and worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination, though the part was too small to win it), as were the always-reliable Catherine Keener, and (a little bit of research uncovered the name of the man who played Keener’s hippie compatriot as) Brian H. Dierker, who I also thought was absolutely outstanding. Lastly, Emile Hirsch was just terrific in the role that obviously makes or breaks the movie. Believe Emile, believe the movie. If you don't believe Emile, the whole film is toast. Eddie Vedder's songs were also excellent, as was the score in general. (Anyone want to burn me a copy of the soundtrack?)
All in all, I’m glad I finally got Into the Wild out of its Netflix sleeve, but I’m also ready for something else. Let’s hope it doesn’t take two months to watch whatever shows up next. Let's make it a poll question for you (both)! Which will happen first: I will watch another movie, or Greg will put a post up on here? I, for one, am curious.