Thursday, May 1, 2014

Into the Wild

I've been watching movies off my Oscar list in recent weeks. Last night's offering was Into the Wild (2007, nominations for best supporting actor for Hal Holbrook and film editing). I will admit, I watched it mostly because yesterday was the last day it would be available for streaming on Netflix. I'd never read the book and knew almost nothing about it except the movie's blurb.

I was stunned by how much I loved it.

For those not in the know, it's based on Jon Krakauer's book of the same name, about a college graduate who gives up everything to live off the grid for the most part. He travels around for two years, on the search for his own personal truth and happiness, and while there are arguments about whether he's suicidal, stupid, or a modern day Thoreau, the movie portrays him as infinitely more complex than that.

For reasons really only known to him, he throws away a promising future, gets rid of most of his worldly possessions, and disappears from his life to wander around the country. Along the way, he runs into a wide variety of characters who all help contribute to molding the boy into a man as he works toward his ultimate goal to go to Alaska. There's a gentle joy to these encounters, some working better than others like the pair of aging hippies who have been there/done that and try to respect his choice while still imparting their own wisdom from having walked some of the same roads. There's the lonely old man who takes him in as a surrogate grandson, who can see exactly how doomed the young man is and is helpless to do anything to stop him. (The scene where Hal Holbrook agrees to wait on something they've talked about until after the young man has returned from Alaska made me sob, it was that powerful.)

The movie is about the value of finding happiness, but that it's not always in the ways you expect. The cinematography is stunning, the performances stellar. Watching it left me with my own questions and the overwhelming desire to find them for myself, while still recognizing that it's never as easy as it seems. It's not a fast watch (2 1/2 hours that relies on moments and vistas rather than action or humor), nor is it an easy one (his decisions are often frustrating and narrow), but it was well worth it in the end.