Into the Wild (2007)
November 1, 2022 2:54 PM - Subscribe

Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), son of wealthy parents (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt), graduates from Emory University as a top student and athlete. However, instead of embarking on a prestigious and profitable career, he chooses to give his savings to charity, rid himself of his possessions, and set out on a journey to the Alaskan wilderness.

Also starring Jena Malone, Brian H. Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Thure Lindhardt, Signe Egholm Olsen, Jim Gallien, James J. O'Neill, Malinda McCollum, Paul Knauls, Zach Galifianakis.

Written & directed by Sean Penn. The screenplay is an adaptation of the 1996 non-fiction book of the same name written by Jon Krakauer.

83% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Paramount Plus and Hoopla. JustWatch listing.

Today, I'm going to post a bunch of movies that are problematic and/or made by/starring problematic people, but also either: have merit/are acclaimed; won some awards; are very popular; have a certain amount of cultural cachet. I'll be tagging these #problematicmovies.

Sean Penn has a long history of assaults and abuse. Emile Hirsch pleaded guilty after an incident where he attacked and strangled Paramount Pictures executive Daniele Bernfeld in 2015. William Hurt is a serial abuser of women.
posted by DirtyOldTown (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Thus concludes this installment of #problematicmovies.

This is a thing I'm going to be doing semi-regularly as a way of dealing with movies that I'm not comfortable recommending. Even aside from--gestures at all of the problematic things--not all of these are even good. But they're big enough in one way or another that my quest to post All of the Movies was going to have to hit them sooner or later.

If people want to discuss the merits of these movies aside from the problematic aspect, that is okay. If they want to dive deeper into why they are problematic, or just register disgust at that stuff, also okay.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:04 PM on November 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting these - yes, problematic media can be critically viewed! For this one, I've read the book but haven't seen more than a few scenes of the movie. There's a bunch of examples in the book of people who fucked up while in nature or fucked up their trips to nature and paid the ultimate price. Nature just doesn't give a fuck.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:46 PM on November 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I read the book and later saw the movie. In both cases I simply can't relate to Chris's need to prove himself to himself, and take such risks doing it. There are all sorts of ways to run away. I also don't really get why anyone climbs Everest. I don't have that sense of tackling the nearly impossible in me.

I love the music, though. I saw the film when it first came out and the songs still seep into my consciousness from somewhere even though I didn't really listen to the soundtrack independently.
posted by Emmy Rae at 4:48 PM on November 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

A number of years ago, I hunted around on the internet and read up on Chris. Unfortunately, the movie really glossed over a lot of the McCandless family drama that explained why Chris needed to find himself. Anyway, here's what I wrote about Into the Wild when I first saw it five years ago:

The Good
The acting is the best part of "Into the Wild". I thought Emile Hirsch was perfect as Chris McCandless. Even though we didn't see a lot of them, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jena Malone were excellent as Chris's family back home. All of the people who played the people Chris met along the way were good, especially Hal Holbrooke. He's still got it. Last, I will mention Kristen Stewart. She was very effectively sultry as a possible love interest for Chris. It's a shame her career has... whatever it has.

The Bad
Sean Penn, I blame him for this. "Into the Wild" was a little too much movie for the subject matter. I'm sure Chris was a deep, damaged guy who had a lot of interesting life experiences, culminating in his journey into the Alaskan bush. But two and a half hours? And I think the movie focused a little too much on Chris's effect on other people and not enough on Chris himself. And I thought in the movie, Chris seemed a little too intelligent to eventually be trapped in the wilderness. Again, Sean Penn made a little too much of the Chris character.

The Ugly
Not only did Sean make "Into the Wild" more than what is there, the structure of the movie wasn't the best. I think a more linear plot structure would have been better, would have served Chris's life story better. Even though it was two and a half hours, I think a lot of Chris's life was lost with the movie jumping around. One final thing, I know it's the hardest part since there isn't a lot to go on, but I feel the movie glossed over/muddled/rushed Chris's time in the bush. That should have been the dramatic/emotional peak of the movie, where Chris finds himself.
posted by Stuka at 5:35 PM on November 1, 2022

Did this just come up in the news or on Reddit or something? Because for some reason I got hyperfixated and took a deep dive on this guy just a couple days ago, too. Generally I find the need to risk one's life by "conquering nature" seems like the most privileged, toxically-masculine crap. My Black friends and I joke that white people lack natural predators because they don't get surveilled and stalked by cops, so they invent predators for themselves by climbing things and playing around at extreme heights and poking animals that could kill them etc. That mentality deeply annoys me - flouting and wasting a safety that I do not feel and I desperately wish I felt - so I've always avoided the movie for that reason, but I can't remember why I suddenly got really interested in McCandless' story a few days ago. So I read all the articles, learned about the various poisoning theories, and watched the movie and Carine McCandless' TED Talk.

And after all that empathizing with this mythologized man, I came away with... he was probably pretty likeable, but still problematic, and Emile Hirsch is a lovely actor, and Sean Penn is a better filmmaker than I expected - the adaptation is great and the added scenes are generally fun - so the movie is interesting and beautiful if you watch on a superficial level... but McCandless' story sucks.

The very idea of "getting away from all this" and "back to nature" and stuff is just a way to mooch. He mooched rides, and food, and boots. He couldn't live "in nature", he lived in a bus. He got to that nature on roads that the rest of us "boring bad people" paid for with our taxes. He turned down his parents' gift of a new car like it was an insult... but he still needed his own beater car, and even after he abandoned his own, he needed many other people to drive him places. Ok, so his dad was an asshole, and his mom was a liar, and he was in an abusive home - but his sister was loving and innocent in all of it and he abandoned and hurt her too. He was just selfish and had a silly and self-important idea of his own power.

And he was a bad planner. He should have practiced smoking porcupine or squirrel or fish. He had like 95 healthy, reasonably well-fed days and 400 rounds of ammo where he could have just figured out how to save a little bit of food. I get that butchering a 600 pound moose / caribou is daunting. But if he had just PRACTICED, he would have figured it out, and then been able to smoke even, like, five pounds of that moose he poached. Then he wouldn't have been so hungry he'd have had to eat all those toxic seeds and given himself wasting sickness in the first place. And then he would have lived 2 more weeks and been alive the day multiple other parties came upon the bus.

It's such a waste and was so selfish and self-aggrandizing, charming though he may have been.

Also, the movie really finds lots of small ways to disrespect female characters, but I guess that's standard too.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:43 PM on November 1, 2022 [17 favorites]

Oh - and I forgot to mention. There's a sequence in the film when he goes to Los Angeles and is surrounded by "terrifying people" who all "just happen" to be Black, and it is so racist my head spun. Scary music. Underexposed film. Dramatic mugshot-like freeze frames. Of all these "terrifying"Black people who are *checks notes* um, walking? standing quietly in lines hoping to get a bite at a homeless shelter? sitting on the sidewalk?

The pleasant portrayal of the Black social worker doesn't make up for the deeply criminalizing lens on the Black citizens who are simply looking for a meal or a bed or walking down the sidewalk, ie, doing literally the exact same thing as McCandless, but they're "Scary Bads" and he's an innocent white Jesus boy we're supposed to see as a hero. Might any of THEM be outrunning challenging home life or be wanting to find themselves or have a beautiful spirit or bright inner spark or whatever? Nah, they're just "Bad Threats."

It is a nauseatingly racist sequence and Sean Penn should be ashamed of himself for it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:56 PM on November 1, 2022 [14 favorites]

In both cases I simply can't relate to Chris's need to prove himself to himself, and take such risks doing it. There are all sorts of ways to run away. I also don't really get why anyone climbs Everest.

Jon Krakauer also wrote one of the definitive books on the Everest climbing industry, Into Thin Air, which chronicled the 1996 Everest disaster, which Krakauer himself was part of. He seems to have made a literary career of turning over rocks that people don't want turned over. And, just as people not really prepared for a serious mountain climb kept going up Everest and dying, at least two people died trying to reach the bus where McCandless died, prompting local officials to eventually just airlift the damn thing out of the backcountry.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:16 PM on November 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

From that airlift link lmao:
“More than 20 years later, it is richly ironic to think of some self-involved urban Americans, people more detached from nature than any society of humans in history, worshipping the noble, suicidal narcissist, the bum, thief and poacher Chris McCandless.”
posted by fleacircus at 7:43 PM on November 1, 2022 [8 favorites]

It's a shame [Kristin Stewart's] career has... whatever it has.

Huh? Last year she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Lady Diana in the film Spencer, so....she seems to be doing okay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:09 AM on November 2, 2022 [9 favorites]

I love the problematic movies tag, thank you DirtyOldTown!
posted by iamkimiam at 6:25 AM on November 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

The soundtrack for this movie is absolutely sublime. That alone makes this one of my "ironing movies" - one that I'll turn on while doing a monotonous task that doesn't require much attention.
posted by Gray Duck at 12:07 PM on November 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

This film filled me with so much rage i cannot explain, something about stupid young males who think they are not part of a society.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 5:41 AM on November 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

I recall the acting and music in this movie being quite good, but even at 23 or 24 when I first saw it, I thought McCandless was an idiot. He was the type of character I sometimes romanticized at that age, but I fucking hated him and left the movie feeling enraged.
posted by asnider at 1:38 PM on November 16, 2022

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