One of the most polarizing films playing at Telluride this year was Into the Wild. Directed and written by Sean Penn off the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer, the film follows the coming-of-age journey of Christopher McCandless, who "dropped out" shortly after graduating with honors from Emory College and walked off into the wilderness. After giving his $24,000 college fund to charity, and burning his drivers license, social security card and credit cards, McCandless set out on a spiritual quest to rebirth himself outside the context of materialism and societal definitions of "success." It's an admirable enough cause for a young person, especially in this age when there's so much focus on the materialistic success and what that means, and there's certainly a deeper philosophical question at the heart of McCandless' journey, but the choices McCandless makes along his journey will make the audience question his motives.
What is success, really, and what is happiness, and can you have one without the other? McCandless and his sister Carine, at least as the film tells their story, grew up with all the accoutrements of what upper middle class society would deem necessary for a happy, fulfilled life: a nice house to live in, parents who dress nice and drive fancy cars, a college fund to pay for school, his own car (a crappy Datsun he bought and paid for himself), enough food to eat, nice clothes to wear. He also, according to the story and the voiceover narration by Carine (Jena Malone), had parents who lied about their relationship (they met when his dad was still married to another woman, with whom he had a son -- something Chris found out about when he was older but never told his parents he knew), fought constantly and violently, and frequently put their children at the center of their battlles and constant threats of divorce.