‘Into the Wild’ is one of those special movies that most would consider a privilege to have worked on. It was the natural choice for Galileo Open Air Cinema, a movie night series staged at various beautiful locations in and around Cape Town. Set against the great outdoors makes it much more inviting when you get a chance to watch it with the natural flora and fauna of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town as a backdrop.

A Hauntingly Beautiful Self-Portrait of the Real Christopher

Beyond Sean Penn’s directorial effort, it’s a remarkable film for many reasons. Set in the early ’90s at a time when grunge was in its heyday, makes the inclusion of Eddie Vedder inspirational. As a road movie, Vedder’s soulful grit is part of what drives the heart of this powerful true story based on the life of Christopher McCandless. Dubbing himself Alexander Supertramp, the drifter traverses the United States preparing for his grand move up north to Alaska.

Referencing ‘The Call of the Wild’, ‘Family Happiness’ and ‘Doctor Zhivago’, all books that Christopher reads during the course of his adventure, ‘Into the Wild’ has a philosophical edge. The hero’s escape, rebellion from and reset of society compels him and gives the film an independent spirit. This youthful verve makes the casting of Emile Hirsch a real win, carrying a reckless energy into the intellectual adventurer. Influencing those around him as he passes from one gatekeeper or spiritual guide to the next propels this road trip.

These heartwarming relationships and influential encounters are brought to life by genuine performances and brilliant casting decisions. Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook, Vince Vaughn and Kristen Stewart do some of their best work in ‘Into the Wild’, capturing the enigmatic essence and complexity of their characters through genuine and lively performances.

Using an experimental, photo album style edit helps convey the sheer amount of footage but also gives the film a sense of history and a marker for the number of roads traveled. Keeping the edit upbeat and the docudrama element upfront, means the coming-of-age adventure drama always gives you a fresh feel as you try to absorb the details from hitchhiking to fresh bursts of raw nature.

Using spans of narration, chapters and organically flipping back and forth in time, ‘Into the Wild’ has its own narrative flow. Pushing off wistful voice-over reflections from his sister to glue the grand adventure within the context of a missing person report and worried family, the drama laces bits and pieces together like one, big and beautiful scrapbook.

The opening credits say “screenplay and directed by Sean Penn”. Brandishing this “stick it to the man” attitude in almost every aspect of Into the Wild gives it a homegrown sincerity and visual flavour. Penn based the film on Jon Krakauer’s novel about McCandless but using this as a springboard to capture a character’s influence and self-realisation.

Wading through a sea of meditative pondering, the man versus nature diatribe and moving with intuition – it’s a sentimental yet poetic ode to life, freedom, family and the trappings of society.

Easily one of Spling’s Top 10 films… it’s a movie that reaches beyond the celluloid to remind us to call things by their name and that happiness should be shared.

Watching ‘Into the Wild’ Under the Stars