As deserving (or not) as many of last night’s Oscar winners were, it was hard not to notice one glaring omission among the Best Picture and Best Director nominees: Sean Penn’s haunting adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (available on DVD 3/4).
Starring Emile Hirsch and Best Supporting Actor nominee Hal Holbrook, the film tells the true story of twentysomething Christopher McCandless, who boyishly wandered around the American West before dying of starvation in the Alaskan wilderness. While Krakauer’s book delved deeply into his subject’s motivations and psyche (was he selfish or stupid? Spiritually lost or psychologically ill?), Penn, who wrote and directed the film, smartly reduces his narrative just to McCandless’s quest — the places he saw (gorgeously shot by cinematographer Eric Gautier), the fellow American wanderers he met (Vince Vaughn is particularly winning as one of them), and how he and those he encountered were changed by the experience.
Beautiful, restrained, funny, and sad, Into the Wild is a celebration of our national instinct for liberty and the lengths to which true believers will go to find it. That golden guy doesn’t know what he’s missing.
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