The final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of American Beauty is this drama that casts Emile Hirsch in the role of Christopher McCandless.
A top student, a promising athlete, Christopher, upon his graduation from Emory University, gives away his money to charity, and begins a hitchhiking journey north, with the intent of living in the wilds of Alaska. The journey, and the characters he meet, shape him as much as his destination.
Hirsch is joined by Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt as Chris’ parents, with Jena Malone as his sister Carine. Along the way he encounters Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook and Zach Galifianakis, an eclectic collection of actors, bringing to life an equally eclectic series of characters.
Based on the true story which Penn adapted from the book by Jon Krakauer, sees Hirsch bringing Chris vividly to life as we see how beautiful our planet can be. Living on a bus in the middle of the wild, we are treated to the beauty, solitude and emptiness of the wild, before flashbacks take us to his life before, crowded, full, and beautiful in its own way, but stifling, almost claustrophobic (caused by the framing of imagery, medium to tight close-ups, and filled frames and filled with the trappings of the modern disposable world, which become emptier, and easier as he travels.
Leaving behind his unaware parents, and his name (taking a new one, Alexander Supertramp), he embarks on a journey of his own self-discovery, having done what his parents required of him he sought out the things he wanted, peace, exploration, solitude, and the wonder of nature.
Penn has shot a stunningly, achingly beautiful film that allows the actors a chance to flourish in their roles, as Chris learns the dynamics of human interaction, and love of solitude as he tries to solve his own issues with the lies and lives of his parents and finds kinship and adoptive parents in Jan (Keener) and Rainey (Brian H. Dierker) but never gets distracted by his goal of Alaska, even when he finds a hint of potential romance with Tracy (Stewart).
As Chris continues his journey, discovering himself, learning who he is, and the beauty of everything around him, we also discover part of ourselves, the part of ourselves we could embrace if we could let go of all the things we thing are important, and embrace the life around us, be a part of it and share the happiness.
This one was a fantastic watch, and Hirsch and Penn pulled out all the stops, to make a singular experience. Definitely worth the watch, this beautiful film is a revelation, and undeniably touching, and despite the ending, perhaps we, as the viewers can learn from Chris’ story.