Into the Wild, the 2007 Sean Penn movie, is the film adaptation of the namesake book written by Jon Krakauer in 1996, a classic for the urban subculture.
The book derives from the travel journal of Christopher McCandless, an American guy from a privileged background, who donated his $24,000 college fund to Oxfam in 1990, after graduating from Emory University and decided to escape from his family and society to start his great adventure into the wild nature of Alaska.
Sean Penn waited 10 years for the movie rights and the McCandless’ consent, but he gave them back a great tribute to Christhopher’s last 2 years of life. Penn developed the movie following two main themes: the great escape and the pursuit of a deep self-knowledge.
From then on, a new concept of the “on the road” travel started to spread around a whole generation, the travel as a tool to investigate and analyze one’s own position inside the society. The direction and screenplay of Sean Penn contributed to delineate the perfect aesthetics of this need for the discovery of the self: he wisely plays with contrasts interchanging wide open spaces and Chris’ feeling of emptiness, to emphasize the greatness of nature.
As Penn shaped the nature narrated by Krakauer and contaminated the collective image of an entire generation, so did his friend Eddie Vedder, who wrote and singed the whole soundtrack. His music perfectly fits the emotions sketched in the screenplay and soon became a cult for the passionates of a dusty wild world. This ideal of escaping from reality found expression few years later into the green revolution (from environmentalism, to veganism etc…) and its followers often cited the soundtrack or the movie itself during their speeches and conventions.
The actor who put a face on this need for extreme adventure is Emile Hirsh, main character of both the movie and Eddie Vedder music videos. He perfectly got into the character, blending his face with Chris’s face in the public mind.
Thanks to the expert mix of good ingredients, Into the Wild’s success goes far beyond box office takings, as it established itself as the icon of the continuous chase of a full self-comprehension. With this movie, Sean Penn brought Christopher McCandless’ life within reach, closer to the audience. Chris is not painted as an idol, rather as one of us, someone with whom the spectator can easily identify himself. Anyone can put himself in Chris’ shoes, get rid of one’s own destiny, reconsider one’s own daily choices, life goals, anyone can dream his adventure toward his own personal Alaska. Into the Wild opened the door of a hidden need for our true deep being and for nature.