A Walk on the Slow Side: Sean Penn Resists All That Hollywood Moralising in a Trip to the Alaskan Waste

By Gilbey, Ryan | New Statesman (1996), November 12, 2007 | Go to article overview

A Walk on the Slow Side: Sean Penn Resists All That Hollywood Moralising in a Trip to the Alaskan Waste


Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)


Into the Wild (15)

dir: Sean Penn

On a list of people and places to which I would turn for advice, Hollywood ranks even lower than the careers officer at college, who assessed my questionnaire (likes: the arts, dislikes: confrontation) and decided I was ideal prison warder material. Most of my classmates received the same suggestion. It must have been a slow year for HM Prison Service.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I've never met anyone whose path was altered by lessons learned from a Hollywood film, but still the industry persists in offering unsolicited counsel. Overworked studio executives are forever green-lighting pictures that tell us to spend more time with our families; for many of the sons and daughters of LA studio brass, the only evidence that daddy or mommy loves them is the release of another guilt-ridden film in which Jim Carrey or Tim Allen learns to play catch in the backyard.

Coming a close second in the "To do" list foisted on us by-Hollywood is the insistence that we should shake off our cloistered, complacent lives--presumably while still spending more time at home--and march off into the great unknown. (I tried that once. I ordered a mochaccino instead of a latte. It didn't work out.)

This hypocrisy has resulted in some preachy film-making (American Beauty, Regarding Henry), and I was fully expecting to add Into the Wild to the inventory of self-righteousness. The raw material is certainly there for a full-blown lecture on how we've lost touch with what really matters: university graduate Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) responds to his icy, affluent parents' offer of a new car by donating his $24,000 of savings to Oxfam and trekking off toward the Alaskan wilderness. On his travels, he meets a pair of plaintive hippies and an uninhibited Danish couple, among others, and is propositioned by a teenage waif with an acoustic guitar. Typical--you venture into the middle of nowhere and you still can't escape sensitive singer-songwriters who want to be Tori Amos.

Happily, the film soft-pedals the life-improving subtext. It has been adapted by its director, Sean Penn, from Jon Krakauer's book, which turned the real Chris McCandless into a folk hero among young males with non-conformist leanings. Others are of the view that he was a narcissistic twit. What's encouraging about Into the Wild is that it accommodates both readings. …

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