Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

***Contains spoilers***

148-minute indie road movie which partly recounts and partly theorises the final two years of twenty-something Christopher McCandless' life.

I think that's always a tricky one to balance when adapting a true-life story, but in McCandless' case it's even harder, because those final 24 months were spent in such anonymous isolation.

Good job he kept a diary then!

Weary of conventional life at 22, Chris rejects materialism by hitting the road, giving away all his money, and changing his name to the openly false Alexander Supertramp.

Along the way he encounters an assortment of people who are also at various distances away from conventional society. Generally, these meetings tend to be beneficial for either or both parties. All the same, ultimately he strikes out into the Alaskan wilderness, hoping to pit himself alone against the environment, a battle which he sadly loses.

Well, it's usually a true story when that happens.

The film's heart lies with his increasingly worried sister, who initially empathises with Chris' need to get away from their stressful family and work things out. Presently however, she slowly realises that that the increasing length of his absence, even from her, just isn't adding up.

Against a backdrop of such lovely scenery, the tone of the film is a breath of fresh air, presenting Chris' experiences with both realism and beauty. Emile Hirsch interprets the role so faultlessly that he even improvises and breaks the fourth wall at one point. This is just one of director Sean Penn's catalogue of tricks to keep such a long slow narrative interesting, particularly needed when it's just the one unfamiliar lead character at the beginning.

As is often the way with true stories, the film's big slip-up is in its editing, telling the story in such a complex non-chronological order, that even the compensatory subtitles can't save it. I found myself honestly wondering whether we had cut back (forward) to his time in the bus again yet or not. This would have been much easier to follow, and I think more enthralling, had we had the chance to live Chris' odyssey with him. The loneliness of his final days is really lost when broken up like this.

There's a lot to identify with in this incarnation of Christopher McCandless, his frustration with the shallowness of modern culture and his desire for freedom being two obvious ones.

Some moments of his journey certainly struck a chord with my own memories of leaving home to go travelling five years ago, particularly the freedom of a life uncontrolled by money. I too found it difficult to walk away from that lifestyle.

Definitely a film that requires some investment from the viewer (it is 148 minutes long!), yet still one that, like Chris' life, seemed to end all too early.

Available here.


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