To enjoy this movie, you’ll need:
1. To have just awakened from a coma you’ve been in since 1959. You’ve never heard of the Sixties. You’ve never seen a hippie. If you chance to stroll along Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, California, before you see Into the Wild, there’s no point in seeing the movie.
2. To have been hoping desperately since childhood that you could leave everything behind and spend eternity in a sound chamber listening to Woodie Guthrie.
3. To have never read these New World odysseys: Huckleberry Finn, Walden, Leaves of Grass, On the Road, The Bear, Lolita, Play It as It Lays, and the Rabbit novels. If you read the Cliff Notes for any of these, however, you’ll risk imagining (along with some movie critics I suspect have their own copies of the Cliff Notes) that somehow Into the Wild actually has a link to these classics (which are mostly yea-saying [i.e., not neurotic] dramas of the New World adventure). For example, “the road” and “the wild” are mentioned a few times in Into the Wild, so I guess it could be confusing. But it’s hard to imagine. (See above, Need for Extended Coma.)
4. To have been as the high point of your life the Editor-In-Chief of your junior high school paper, and suffering arrested development from that point. And in those journalistic peak days of yours, you’d have specialized in writing editorials along the line, Mom and Dad, especially Dad, are Bad. It’s all their fault. Along with all the other adults. They’re all just so thoughtless! As Chris, the central character in Into the Wild, would put it: My little sister, Felicity, to whom I’m really close, must have cried after I ran off with no idea in hell where I was going…well, I guess I should have sent her a card or an e-mail after I disappeared. But what the hell, just imagine all the lousy things Dad’s done!
5. To have irrepressible fantasies of Drop-Out Youngsters wising up Chagrined Elders who have lost their souls to Mammon. Giving them an earful. In Into the Wild the great Hal Holbrook is reduced to a Straight-Man Adult in such an exercise. Ditto William Hurt, here as Daddy Baddest, Local Representative of the Powers of Darkness. Marcia Gay Harden hasn’t a chance as Mommie Dearest. Catherine Keener is unintendedly hilarious as a Hippie Free Spirit. Her performance reminds, say, of a Parade Magazine Remembrance of Hippies Past.
The hero, Chris, by the way, looks like just what you’d imagine tennis star Roger Federer’s younger brother would look like. Uncanny. Chris would have been much better off playing tennis.
In sum: Into the Wild is the discount version of striking out in the New World. That is, there’s nothing new or, if you will, newsworthy about it. It will prove excessively familiar to you. Excessive familiarity breeds excessive contempt. Have a sleeping pillow with you should somehow you get trapped into seeing it. It’d be OK to wear a T-shirt that admonishes, “Grow up!” The worst that could happen is that you’d get blamed for Everything.