Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On the Road and Into the Wild




Here's both a movie review and a remembrance in honour of the 50th anniversary of a landmark novel. While they are not related in any way, both represent a restlessness with a materialist-based lifestyle and a strong impulse to get back to simplicity in life, back to nature, back to what is real (versus what is fabricated).

In September or October 1957, Viking Press finally published a novel that Jack Kerouac had written years before on a long scroll (teletype roll). A legend had grown up around his novel, which he had claimed to have written in a 3 week benzedrine-fueled burst of creative "first thought, best thought" form of spontaneous prose...which we now know is b.s. It was part of the legend Kerouac wanted to create about himself and his "literary genius". The truth is that he wrote several versions, using the journals he kept, and yes, he did edit the novel. It was a transformative novel. When I finally got around to reading it in 2001, I kind of thought it was overrated...but I could see a lot of my life in there. It made me a fan of Kerouac for life. My whole life seems to have been on the road, so it was like reading something directly meant for me. It is definitely a classic and worth reading. In honour of the 50th anniversary, publishers have come out with two hardback versions...one of which is directly transcribed from the infamous scroll which has the original names and no paragraph breaks. That's the one I want to read.

A few years ago, I won on ebay a copy of the Francis Ford Coppola script of the film version he hopes to make someday. It's interesting but I haven't read it all yet. I don't know what's going on with the film but I would love to work on that film and get all the cool souvenirs that go along with it (perhaps a leather jacket, director's chair, etc). But, rather than live in some other writer's shoes, I'd love to have that kind of success with my own, what I consider to be a "transformative generational novel" that "On the Road" most certainly was. And while a film version of that classic novel might never make it to the big screen, there is a film that carries on the same spirit of life on the open road and a rebellion against materialistic comforts...

That film is "Into the Wild", which I saw with the MAYA group on Monday. I had free passes to that film and it was one of the ones I was most excited to see this fall. I had read the book in 1998 at my friend Nathan's insistence. He said that he saw some similarities between the guy Chris McCandless and me. I remember reading it and writing a rebuke of that opinion. From what I remember, McCandless was oddly a Reagan supporter as well as a fan of Henry David Thoreau. It's a baffling oxymoron, I thought. No wonder why McCandless was so messed up. He didn't see the shallow materialistic promotion of the Reagan years and connect it with the disconnect he felt with his own materialistic parents. Instead, he felt inspired by Thoreau to live an existence out in the wild, working only as a means to finance the next leg in his journey.

Well...the film couldn't be any better than what it is. It is absolutely perfect, which is a rare distinction I give to a film. Granted, perhaps it could be edited down a little for time, but at 2 and a half hours, it did feel a lot longer than that. But by the end, you feel as though you were on the journey with him. There were many scenes of gorgeous beauty...the kind of tribute to our great country that is rarely seen in films. We see a lifestyle that many dream of (who doesn't fantasize at least once about chucking it all and heading out on the road?) but few actually do. There is a whole culture out there, communities that live a basic nomadic lifestyle...namely at Slab City near the Salton Sea. Some might dismiss them as "hippies", but I find it admireable. Why do we need to work in the rat race with all its subprime mortgages, credit card debt, and college tuition repayments? All of that has gotten in the way of community...of actually meeting strangers on the journey of life and finding a deeper connection with them.

The music by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder was awesome. I'm not a fan of Pearl Jam but I thought the music was brilliant and perfectly fit and enhanced the mood of the film. The overall message is good too. At the end of his journey, McCandless finally realizes that true joy is meant to be shared, not in isolation. I agree.

I hope this film will be one of the five nominated for Best Picture come Oscar time, as well a Best Director nomination for Sean Penn. I honestly didn't think he had it in him to create such a masterpiece. What a pleasant surprise that turned out to be.

Please see this film. At the end, it might have you pining for the open road. It certainly did for me.

1 comment:

John Lucke said...

This is so true, I just read it On the Road for my beat literature class and I thought the exact same thing!