Into the Wild + Grizzly Man

Double feature: There are only so many jammed elevators, sidewalk jostlings, and impossibly-timed left turns you can take before that voice in your head – the one wheedling for rural escape – starts to sound reasonable.

That’s when it’s time to give these two movies a screening.  They’ll let that voice in your head have its day – they’ll even bolster it with inspiring scenery and evidence of how thrilling life can be when driven by passion rather than fear.  But they’ll also provide enough sobering counter-arguments to that voice to silence it for what is likely to be quite a while.

“Into the Wild,” a narrative film based on a true story, and “Grizzly Man,” a documentary, both center on troubled characters who veer sharply away from conventional society, toward the dream of a new life built entirely on their own terms.  The protagonists of both films operate with the faith that no harm will come to them as long as they follow a particular set of arcane, internally-developed rules.

As these rules aren’t necessarily apparent to others, nor in accordance with the workings of the natural world, they constitute a dangerous kind of magical thinking.  Both films point to the tragic naïveté of this thinking, but also to the rare charisma and energy it lends their protagonists, rendering them compelling to so many who cross their paths.

And to us.  Emile Hirsch’s portrayal of “Into the Wild”‘s Christopher McCandless is one of dynamism and authenticity.  Timothy Treadwell, the subject of “Grizzly Man,”  gives a performance of a different sort, becoming a character whose audacity would compensate for the parts of himself, and the world, that disappointed him.

For a marathon“Don’t Look Back” offers another self-styled figure who distances himself from others with the sharp edge of his intelligence and a belief in self-sufficiency, and whose reluctance to be pigeonholed into commitments allows people to see whatever they’re looking for in him.

Treadwell’s misinterpretation of animal behavior is a major element in “Grizzly Man.”  A similarly disturbing documentary, “Koko: A Talking Gorilla,” echoes the folly of anthropomorphizing wild animals.

For a gentler, cozier take on the escape into rural life, check out the PBS documentary “Atchafalaya Houseboat.”

(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “Public Domain Photos” and “This Year’s Love” at Flickr)

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