March 2, 2008

Hit the road Jack

Thanks to my aunt who gave me a National Geographic subscription when I was young, I've always dreamed of throwing off all material and personal attachments, and leading an ascetic life in an ashram in India, or in the Himalayas, drinking yak's milk. The open road has always beckoned me. Of course, given my lack of survival skills, I'll just have to content myself with road trips and watching movies about these soul-searchers.

Into the Wild is based on Jon Kraukauer's non-fiction book about Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), who after graduating from college, leaves everything behind to live off the land in Alaska. I saw him as an angry, self-absorbed, naive (no map or compass!) and selfish young man. It was cruel of him to renounce his parents and sister. You think he would have abandoned his quest if he paid attention to the life lessons from the people he met on the road...the always excellent Catherine Keener and her hippie partner played by a wonderful non-actor, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn as a brotherly South Dakota farmer, the Danish couple predisposed to nudity, and finally, the amazing Hal Holbrook who made me laugh and weep. (I was upset at our protagonist for making Hal's character climb the mountain. I was screaming, 'don't get a heart attack!'---but I kept it all inside.)

Chris's heartbroken parents were played by William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden; I cried again when Mr. Hurt collapsed on their driveway. In a departure from the book, a history of abuse was inserted into the screenplay written by Sean Penn, who also directed the film. This part was unnecessary as Chris probably didn't need any other excuse to reject his privileged life other than his youthful idealism.

For me, the main star of the film was North America's wide open spaces. Eddie Veder provided music to complement the cinematography. The Motorcycle Diaries' Eric Gautier beautifully filmed blue skies, the canyons, deserts, rivers and lakes of the southwest; Middle America's amber waves of grain; even seedy Los Angeles, and of course, the Alaskan wilderness. I've seen how achingly beautiful Alaska is and can understand how one can obsess over it. Our hero said that happiness is not to be found in human relationships; happiness is in nature and all around us. Unfortunately, he underestimated Mother Nature. His ultimate realization: 'happiness real only when shared'.

The DVD is coming out 04 March. If you've ever thought of opting out of our consumerist society or just hitting the road, watch this film. I wish that at some point in your life, you get a chance to satisfy your wanderlust or whatever brings you joy. And have people to share it with.


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