Let me the first to say that Hal Holbrook ,who plays Ron Franz in Sean Penn’s interpretation of Jon Krakauer’s book “Into the Wild”, deserves an Oscar nomination. (I think the cinematography does as well, and possibly the script, direction, and editing.) Holbrook is so believable and plays the role of a lonely old man who shares kindness
with Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless, the young Emory University graduate who gives away all his savings and goes off the grid to search for truth. He is angry at his parents, their hypocrisy, with the superficiality of the world, authority. Ron Franz gets it that he isn’t just being kind to a homeless kid but that the young man has renewed his life as well. Chris is an existential hippy (perhaps that is redundant), born a generation too late but encounters the kindness of hippy gypsies along his way. The reciprocity of the relationships in the film shows that goodness, change, and forgiveness are always possible.
Sean Penn creates his world as if he knows what McCandless’ search is about. I know that the way Penn tells the story, McCandless’s quest resonated with me.
This film communicates the mutuality of spirituality, our unity with one another,with God, and creation, in ways that only cinema can. Happiness is meant to be shared.If you haven’t seen Penn’s 1995 film, “The Crossing Guard”, do see it. It’s not perfect, but it has one of the most powerful endings I have ever seen.
Some of the themes in “Into the Wild” are the search, influence of literature, human maturity, living with “enoughness”, the environment as creation, parenting: parental failings and regret, forgiveness, responsibility, loneliness, the nature of true freedom. William Hurt role as Chris’ father is a brief one, but very powerful as well.