November 18, 2007

Into the movie theater, "Into the Wild."

I saw the movie "Into the Wild" yesterday. This was only the second movie I've seen since arriving in New York in mid-August. (The other was "Across the Universe" — blogged here.)

Why don't I see more movies? 1. I don't like the physical constraint of committing to sitting in a chair for 2 hours. 2. I only go to movies I think I'll like and still don't much like the movies I see. 3. Few movies seem like the sort of thing I'll like. 4. I have no shortage of other things to do (which is the case for anyone who loves to read). 5. I don't find myself in social situations where going to the movies is what people do together (and I don't see why people want to spend their precious time together doing something that involves so little interaction with each other).

Why did "Into the Wild" overcome my resistance? 1. I wanted to take a cab to 27th Street and 11th Avenue to begin a walk that would take me through a bunch of art galleries...

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... and then all the way back to Brooklyn Heights, and "Into the Wild" was playing at a theater on 19th Street and Broadway, so what I usually experience as noisome restraint would rest me up for the walk through downtown Manhattan and across the Brooklyn Bridge. 2. Having read the book "Into the Wild," I was interested in seeing a visualization of it. 3. Some of my very favorite movies are about men at the existential edge: "Grizzly Man," "Touching the Void," "The Pianist," "My Dinner With André." (I know André is just sitting at a restaurant table throughout the movie, but he describes a search for his soul through mountains, deep forest, the Sahara, and the inside of a grave.)

How did I like "Into the Wild"?

1. The actor — Emile Hirsch — who played Christopher McCandless, was cute — like the young Leonardo di Caprio — but he did not radiate emotion. Compare him to Adrian Brody in "The Pianist," whose character, like McCandless, is starving. Brody made me feel what was happening to him as he descended into the most desperate human condition. Hirsch couldn't do that, though he was supported by terrific actors (especially Hal Holbrook), profound landscapes, and that squalid little bus. He seemed like a really nice kid with a lot of idealism and enthusiasm who made a few unfortunate choices and so, sadly, never got the chance to grow up. Unlike the character in "The Pianist," McCandless made his own choices. He rejected society, but we can't see much anti-social edge in Hirsch's portrayal.

2. The photography didn't move me. The beach, the canyon, the desert, the mountains — these are all beautiful locations, but this isn't a travelogue. These things should be photographed to convey emotion, but they looked about the way they'd look if you went there and saw them for yourself. There are 2 key scenes where Hirsch climbs up a hill, acts enthused, and gets the old man played by Holbrooke to climb up there too. It reminded me of the scene in "Titanic" when Leo DiCaprio shows Kate Winslet how to live by getting her to stretch out her arms on the prow of the ship. It's a Hollywood cliché. (Too bad Hirsch didn't yell "I'm king of the hill!")

3. I nearly walked out about a third of the way in. Something about Hirsch and Catherine Keener romping on the beach and plunging into the ocean felt stupid and phony. We're told the character is afraid of water, and then Keener — the mother figure he finds to replace his real and too-distant mother — makes it possible for him to go swimming. I forced myself to stay, and I see the story arc this was part of. He leaves his inadequate parents. (They're excited about the idea of him going to Harvard Law School and haven't a clue why he doesn't want them to buy him a new car.) He goes on the road where he finds replacements for his mother and father (Keener and Holbrook). He interacts with water — gets caught in a flash flood, kayaks through rapids, plunges in the ocean, fords a stream — which are probably meant to symbolize birth/mother. And he encounters a rocky terrain and kills and butchers some animals — squirrel and moose — (squirrel and moose???) — which are probably meant to symbolize his struggle with death/father.

4. The movie raises but hardly explores the issue of celibacy. We're shown this attractive young man, who seems to have a feeling for other people, in the presence of sensuous females. Kayaking, he comes upon a bare-breasted woman, but she has a boyfriend and he has to run off. (He's running from park rangers). Later, a beautiful, sensitive girl throws herself at him, but she's 16, and he's upstanding about that. (He burns his money and Social Security card, he kayaks in violation of clearly stated rules, and he steals rides on freight trains, but he's rigorous about the age-of-consent laws.) So the movie shows us the path not taken — love from a woman could replace the inadequate parents — and the character is given pat excuses for not going there. Still, why did he forswear sex? In the end, dying alone, he writes in his notebook: "Real happiness must be shared." This is very affecting, and it is an important idea in the intellectual development of this man who reads a lot of books. But something is left unexplored. Why didn't McCandless want sex?

Did you walk all the way home?

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36 comments:

Ron said...

Ugh! I just wish you wouldn't write about movies at all.

Pogo said...

I disagree, Ron. Probably because I tend to feel the same way about films.

"2. I only go to movies I think I'll like and still don't much like the movies I see. 3. Few movies seem like the sort of thing I'll like." is an apt description for much of the available movie fare. I find most less than entertaining, and many maddening.

As for this movie's subject matter? Count me out. People making relentlessly stupid decisions and then ending up in peril are not interesting to me. I quit reading the book after I figured out he was daft.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Pogo. But have you seen "Grizzly Man"? He's daft, but that's very much worth watching.

Bob said...

Why didn't McCandless want sex?

Not everyone is desperately seeking it or is desperately in need of it, despite Hollywood indoctrination to the contrary. I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I would guess that McCandless was a natural ascetic, similar to the early Desert Fathers.

Then again, many young men (the bravo males) have to overcome feelings of shyness about sexuality, and be more assertive about making passes. These are the men (I include myself) who regret all the women they didn't have, and talk about the broad swathe they would plow, given another chance.

knoxwhirled said...

Yeah, I rarely go to movies anymore. It's just not worth it unless I think it's going to be great.

I don't see why people want to spend their precious time together doing something that involves so little interaction with each other.

Going to see horror or action movies with friends can be really fun. Unfortunately 99% of them totally suck, so opportunities are rare. (BTW, anyone who hasn't caught the remake of Dawn of the Dead yet really needs to see it. It's great, and I'm not kidding.)

I also hated reading Into the Wild. And who wants to watch an episode of "I shouldn't Be Alive" with a depressing ending? (Admittedly, for some reason I really enjoyed Into Thin Air. even though the people who go up on Everest get on my nerves.)

Ann Althouse said...

"Not everyone is desperately seeking it or is desperately in need of it, despite Hollywood indoctrination to the contrary."

I agree, but it wasn't explored.

"I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I would guess that McCandless was a natural ascetic, similar to the early Desert Fathers."

Except his final realization -- in his own words -- is that happiness must be shared.

"Then again, many young men (the bravo males) have to overcome feelings of shyness about sexuality, and be more assertive about making passes. These are the men (I include myself) who regret all the women they didn't have, and talk about the broad swathe they would plow, given another chance."

That shows it's an interesting subject. Or do you think it's just shallow and obvious. People are shy and it's a shame that they miss opportunities because of it?

Ann Althouse said...

Knoxwhirled: If you like "I Shouldn't Be Alive," don't miss the movie "Into the Void."

So, they could have fictionalized the McCandless story. He could have been rescued at the last minute.

Bob said...

That shows it's an interesting subject. Or do you think it's just shallow and obvious. People are shy and it's a shame that they miss opportunities because of it?

Interstingly enough, the movie was directed by Sean Penn, if memory serves. Penn is the exact opposite, an assertive alfa male who has no lack of confidence. How different would the movie have been with another director helming, one who understood the psyche of the ascetic or the beta male personality?

Pogo said...

"Grizzly Man"?
That was good. It went against my inclination to avoid stories about folks trying to prove Darwin correct. But the filmmaker was astute enough to avoid glorifying an idiot yet at the same time creating sympathy for all the wreckage he caused.

Bob said...

Except his final realization -- in his own words -- is that happiness must be shared.


Well, if he experienced an epiphany, then it came far too late for him to act upon it. Deathbed epiphanies aren't uncommon.

Palladian said...

"We're shown this attractive young man, who seems to have a feeling for other people, in the presence of sensuous females. Kayaking, he comes upon a bare-breasted woman, but she has a boyfriend and he has to run off... Later, a beautiful, sensitive girl throws herself at him, but she's 16, and he's upstanding about that... So the movie shows us the path not taken — love from a woman could replace the inadequate parents — and the character is given pat excuses for not going there...But something is left unexplored. Why didn't McCandless want sex?"

Maybe he just didn't want sex from women. The preceding scenarios sound like maybe the boy had something to hide. Could all this silly ritualistic need to "cleanse" and run away into the lonely wilderness be an extreme negative reaction to his discovery of his homosexuality? Sean Penn certainly wouldn't go there, but that might make it interesting.

Paddy O. said...

Is the sexuality part of the conventionalities of life he left behind? Why did he give up money? Safety? Security? Sexuality is often a shallow form of intimacy, stimulating but empty. Not for all, but for many.

He lets it go for the same reason he lets the rest of it go. He senses there's something more, something deeper. He goes on a quest, a Galahad quest.

Why go to the extent he went to and just indulge in the satisfaction he could have found more of at home.

He was looking for an answer, a grail. Sexuality suggests it is it, but those who indulge the most in it are hardly the icons of wisdom and wholeness. So there must be something more.

Only unlike the desert fathers it sounds like he had a quest but not a goal, no destination or marker or orientation to propel him to his enlightenment.

Thanks for the review. It's now on my netflix queue.

AJ Lynch said...

Yes saw Grizzly Man and was amazed he lasted as long as he did.

I read the book Into the Wild many years ago. The author did a great job re-tracing the path of a trouobled and selfish young man (McCandless). I have seen the movioe preiviews and the news promo stories and it seems the producer is trying to make this hapless kid into some type of hero. He was not a hero of any kind.

Trooper York said...

Most people, especially urban dwellers don’t have any idea how harsh a mistress Mother Nature can be. I am sure a lot of our rural commenters have plenty of stories how a simple walk in the woods could turn bad really quickly if you weren’t prepared and don’t know what you are doing. Back in the day a bunch of the neighborhood guys would go hunting in the Catskills every year. Think the Bowery Boys meet the Leatherstocking Tales. We weren’t really in our comfort zone. You couldn’t sneak up behind a deer that was enjoying a plate of linguini and give him two behind the antlers with a 22 caliber starter pistol. Frankie Frezzo always insisted on wearing two toned saddle shoes while stalking his prey. We weren’t exactly Uncas and Natty moving silently through the woods. In New York State in the sixties it was a lot less developed than it is now and you could make a wrong turn and walk a long way before you found your way out of the woods. Despite our bumbling city boy incompetence we usually got a least one deer per season. The really interesting part was the trip home. We hang, gut and drain and tie it with clothesline to the roof of the Country Squire Station wagon and head down Route 17 to Brooklyn. Always a lot of fun when we got to the toll booths at the George Washington Bridge and down the West Side Highway. Then to Sal the Butcher’s shop on Henry Street where he would prepare the venison for the dinner the next Saturday night at the Knights of Columbus. That very limited experience with the great outdoors gave me a lot of respect for Nature and its dangers. I don’t think that the issue with this guy was abstinence. It was arrogance. It’s not nice to screw around with Mother Nature. She doesn’t take prisoners

Blake said...

I'm curious as to what Ron's objections are to Althouse reviews.

I ended up seeing Waitress after putting it off due to Althouse's excoriation, and finding it quite enjoyable.

Blake said...

Trooper,

I love nature but I understand it's an unrequited love.

Ron said...

Blake -- perhaps I would respond in a n email, but not in a comment.

Blake said...

Well, if you feel like it, I'm -at- kingdomrpg -dot- com.

Ron said...

I'll write something up and send it!

Cedarford said...

Althouse - Later, a beautiful, sensitive girl throws herself at him, but she's 16, and he's upstanding about that. (He burns his money and Social Security card, he kayaks in violation of clearly stated rules, and he steals rides on freight trains, but he's rigorous about the age-of-consent laws.)

Kind of funny Ann thinks - or appears to think that once somebody has done certain crimes - other crimes would be equally attractive and pursued..

"For some reason, Juan wasn't interested in anally taking the young, willing 16 year old boy - despite him being an illegal alien with 3 fake SS cards and his criminal past of smoking pot and setting off fireworks illegally...."

Palladian said...

"I'll write something up and send it!"

Oh please tell me too...

Maxine Weiss said...

"I don't see why people want to spend their precious time together doing something that involves so little interaction with each other"----Althouse

Mom sits in a cafe with son. Mom's got her laptop out, and Son's got his book at the ready.

Togetherness.

Trooper York said...

Woman sits at computer and types inane and insane posts that make no sense. Seventy five cats sit around draped on furniture and lick their genitals.

Togetherness.

Ron said...

Why Palladian...I didn't think you cared!

George said...

Grizzly Man!

Yes, absolutely. Has to be seen to be believed.

The man lived with bears for many summers while pretending to be the host of a living-with-the-bears reality TV show.

Another great recent documentary about men in the great outdoors: "Shadow of the Moon."

Best film I've ever seen about the Apollo program, possibly because the astronauts interviewed are now in the their late 70s. They look and sound just the old dudes you meet in the barber shop. They're so goofy you can't believe any of them went to the moon!

Blake said...

My review of ITSOTM here.

Palladian said...

"Why Palladian...I didn't think you cared!"

Where did I say that?!

Mark said...

You really didn't notice the anti-social side to McCandless? That's shocking, frankly. He was one of the most cruel and selfish characters I've seen portrayed in quite awhile.

The scene with his parents was bad enough, but then we have the surrogate mother pestering him about his real parents - and he rejects her suggestion to contact them repeatedly. He also blows off Hal Holbrook's character.

He made his choices, yes, and hurt very many people in the process, out of his own pigheadedness.

Ron said...

"I'll write something up and send it!"

Oh please tell me too...


right there!

Ann Althouse said...

"You really didn't notice the anti-social side to McCandless?"

I wrote "but we can't see much anti-social edge in Hirsch's portrayal." I see that McCandless was anti-social. I'm faulting Hirsch for not bringing an edge to the portray of a person who is behaving in an anti-social way. He's too much the nice guy.

Finn Kristiansen said...

I tend to doubt anybody goes without sex without having some serious mental, physical, or social issues that they are fighting or trying to work through.

Sometimes you want sex badly, but that desire is eclipsed by your shyness, fatness, ugliness, annoyingness, etc. Unable to rectify the immediate issue, and not wanting to seem hard up, you mask the true reason. You say you are not "into" it. That you are working too hard. That you are religious. Or that it's all so superficial.

But if God tossed a booby woman into your lap, gratis, you would be all over it.

Palladian said...

"But if God tossed a booby woman into your lap, gratis, you would be all over it."

No, I'd throw her to the floor and call the police. Then I'd sue God for damages inflicted from a "booby woman" projectile landing in my lap.

Trooper York said...

I am definitely intrigued by the term "booby woman." Is it a woman with large breasts? Is it a woman who is insane i.e.: a booby? Pamela Anderson or Maxine Weiss. Enquiring minds want to know.

Trooper York said...

Raven hair and ruby nips
sparks fly from her naughty tips
Echoed voices in the night
she's a restless spirit on an endless flight
wooo hooo booby woman, see how
high her boobies lie
woo hoo booby woman she got
those balloons in her eye.
She held me spellbound in the night
restless mounds and firelight
crazy laughter in another
room and she drove herself to madness
while the boys all swoon
woo hoo booby woman see how high her boobies lie
woo hoo booby woman she got those balloons in her eye
(Kid Rock, 1997 while married to Pamela Anderson)

Ann Althouse said...

Kid Rock should have left out "firelight." Too sentimental. Doesn't belong.

Trooper York said...

You know you are absolutely right. Firelight is way too romantic an image for enjoying the charms of Ms. Anderson. The burning sensation usually comes two to three days after you make love to her.