I hated the book because I couldn’t bear Chris McCandless. I still can’t bear Chris McCandless but the movie was much more tolerable. Almost enjoyable.

Into the Wild was written (screenplay) and directed by Sean Penn based on the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer chronicling the extreme journey taken by an idealistic, jaded, and tragically sensitive young man who ended up dead in an abandoned bus in Alaska after living off the land for over 100 days. A true story.

Emile Hirsch is outstanding in the lead role. When I spoke to Sean Penn during TIFF, he posited that even he, during his illustrious career, has never had to tackle a part as demanding as this one. High praise indeed for a relatively unknown young actor. And deservedly so. McCandless was much more engaging on film than he was in prose – more endearing, more earnest, perhaps slightly less grating.

The easy assumption would be of course that as a dirty, shallow blogger, naturally an authentic soul like McCandless would be grating and would have limited appeal. Because how would a gossip understand the profundity of his life? But what some call depth, I call immaturity. His escape from his family, from civilisation, from lies and betrayals was for me no different than a high school graduate wearing black for 2 straight years, quoting Nietzsche and sighing incessantly during dinner. The only thing setting Chris apart was the extremism, and if extremism in the form of gluttony and greed isn’t glorified, why then is its counterpart on the opposite side of the spectrum?

To me, Chris was angry and arrogant – an opinion not widely shared. Those who have read the book and seen the movie talk of courage and adventurism, almost glamorising his spirited quest to live without the temptations of modern society, intent on de-spoiling himself of the shackles of consumerism and seeking truth in nature - truth in a relationship with wilderness, true enlightenment in isolation, and fulfilment without others.

My personal view of fulfilment however is achieved through community. Taking off is easy – maybe not roughing it in the f&cking tundra but total avoidance and escape totally beats confrontation. Call me Cruise but I think it’s much more challenging to exist around others, to struggle daily to understand them, and to receive understanding right back, to love and forgive those who wrong you, to be strong for them when they need you, to hear them tell you when you’ve failed, and to watch yourself fail them over and over. What could be more authentic than facing yourself facing others?

Or…better… how is that less authentic than shedding yourself of any human engagement and bonding with the vegetation?

In all fairness, it does seem like he found moderation in the end and the conclusion that has been drawn from his writings just before his death – namely a sentence scrawled in a book: Happiness only real when shared – and very sympathetically portrayed by Penn, is that McCandless’s long expedition really did take him home. Only too late and at too high a price. Which is why the aforementioned honouring of his path – at least by some – is so confounding.

And then there’s the irony of his story becoming not only a bestseller but a Hollywood movie.

As far as performances go, besides Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener is a standout. Always excellent whatever she does. And Vince Vaughn – a surprising, multilayered delivery that showcases him at his very best. He really needs to do more drama.

Finally…the way the film felt, how it looked, how it sounded. So visually spectacular you’d think you were watching the National Geographic channel. Sean Penn’s direction in this regard is terrific. I could almost smell the animal carcass when he slaughtered a moose and taste the sand in the dessert, to say nothing of the segments in Alaska - the bleak reality of the north and at the same time the exhilarating rush of standing so small against a huge, frozen landscape…quite an achievement highlighted by a perfect soundtrack. Eddie Vedder wrote the original songs, his crackly, hungry, voice complementing Chris’s lonely expedition. Every note fit every scene. It’s music that stays with you for days and days.

Into the Wild is in limited release now and there is loud talk of an Oscar push. Definitely see it. Definitely worth the debate afterwards over hot chocolate. Or vodka.