"Into the Wild" is an exercise in teen angst and disillusionment put onto film - which is to say, earnest in its intentions, loud and blunt in its execution, and not particularly smart. Its likely beloved because it mirrors certain relatable adolescent emotions with such obviousness that any jaded teenager can understand it, wrapped in a story that is taken to its extreme. I'm all for a movie that wants to reach a wide audience, perhaps an entire generation, but "Into The Wild" is the epitome of hitting audiences over the head.
As such, despite inclusions of talented cast members like Hal Holbrook and the steady direction of Sean Penn, I couldn't help but feel a little frustrated by the immaturity of the story and the main character. Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless like the boy (not man) probably was in real life - confused, selfish, and stubborn. These are teenage traits to be sure, traits that end up dangerously if they aren't grown out of, demonstrated perfectly by the film. Yet the script seems to suppose we should idolize McCandless for his childish ignorance. He did so much wrong, but I suppose because this is a true story, the writers of the book and film decided that they would treat him with the utmost respect and not question his obviously foolish course of action. But a movie like "127 Hours" shows that a movie that calls the victim out in order to warn the audience of repeating such misguided acts can be rich, effective, and yet respectful to the subject in question.
Instead, "Into The Wild" wastes its hugely unnecessary two and a half hour run time praising McCandless, and when it isn't doing that, its likely prancing around goofy characters that range from talented (Catherine Keener) to eye-roll worthy (Kristen Stewart, who bites her lower lip immediately upon entering the scene). And all of these episodes usually end with McCandless not learning anything from them, and usually leaving them without saying goodbye, without doing anything that remotely helps them or teaches anyone anything. Here we see a microcosm for whiny teenage immaturity (dare I also say pretentiousness), which masquerades as some sort of righteous cynicism. The kind of thought processes that clearly, if you watch the movie until the end, should not be replicated or encouraged.
So what, then, is the purpose of "Into The Wild" if we're asked to cheer on a childish fool the entire time? I certainly believe the film has a purpose, and deserves to exist, but I'm inclined to say the love people have for this movie is highly indicative of a generation of social media-induced self-indulgence and self-righteousness. In other words, "Into The Wild" serves the same kind of purpose "Project X" serves - to shine a light on what is largely wrong with how today's youth thinks - though admittedly "Into The Wild" at least attempts to maintain a sense of classiness, even if it is ultimately a facade.