Into his free will and taking the

Into the Wild: A review on the influence of RomanticismWe are currently living in “modern era” of human history, a time of great technological and societal advances that in this 21st century, have propelled humans to heights that were never dreamed of before. Yet, we still never forget our past. The movement of Romanticism in the late 18th century was more than just an ordinary literary movement. It marked a time when human civilization went from conservative and practical to individual and free-willing. Humans were valued for what we could do rather than what had been done. Anything seemed possible, and any motive to find oneself became acceptable. In the movie “Into the Wild,” directed by Sean Penn, the character Christopher McCandless (or Alex Supertramp) embodies the self-determined individual that once was a clear pillar of the Romantic movement. Through the use of individuality, imagination, and intuition, director Sean Penn creates a film that embodies the main ideas of Romanticism, and takes us on a journey towards the core belief of what it means to be free-willed. One of the more evident influences of Romanticism on Sean Penn’s work is that of individuality. The entire plot of “Into the Wild” revolves around the story of Christopher McCandless, a college graduate who loses connection with the world to find himself in the Alaskan wilderness. Similar to many Romantics, McCandless rejected conformity to society. His guidance in life was following the path of his free will and taking the road less (or never) traveled, rather than following the footsteps of those who came before him. With constant solo scenes and a large focus on the time spent by himself, Penn makes us focus on McCandless as an individual and a soul, making us lose sight of the rather nonsensical journey that he is on. As stated by McCandless in the movie, “It is in life not necessarily to be strong…but to feel strong.” This same sense of individual determination is a common staple of other romantic works, such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In this story, a mariner tells of a great journey he partook in, which involved finding himself spiritually and emotionally,and coming out of the journey a better man. As realized by the mariner, “I closed my lids, and kept them close,Till the balls like pulses beat; For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky Lay like a load on my weary eye, And the dead were at my feet.” (Coleridge, 1798). This same notion is present in the end of “Into the Wild”, as in the final days of McCandless’ life, he became one with himself, nature, and society. The influences of Romanticism, especially that of individuality, had a large effect on Sean Penn’s work, and allowed him to highlight the shining characteristics in McCandless.Another Romantic element featured heavily in Penn’s work is that of imagination. Many of the themes in the movie are not exactly clear; there’s not the dramatic yet obvious thriller of a Marvel movie or a lovey-dovey setting of a rom-com. However, the themes must be found through imagination, much like many other Romantic works. To many Romantics, the age of reason brought a new view on reality. Not everything was clear cut, and one had to think deeply and envision things in intricate ways to see the true themes, motives, or philosophies. For example, in “The Letters of John Keats” by Romantic writer John Keats, himself, stated “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of imagination.” (Keats, 1895). This same concept of imagination is ever present in “Into the Wild.” Sean Penn’s in depth characterization of McCandless allows us to see his emotional state, personality, and disposition. While the motives of his journey are not stated, we are able to imagine why McCandless, our new favorite hero, is making the trek into the wild, and discovering a new sense of what he can be. This imaginative sense not only captivates the viewer, but also seems to control the main character as well, as the whole point of the movie revolves around McCandless’ rather imaginative journey. As stated by McCandless, “If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.” Much like Keats, McCandless’ view on life is dictated by enlightenment principles, in that following strict reason and moral codes will lead us into a dark place, while following one’s imagination allows us to be more free-willed, and achieve a greater purpose in life. A Third Romantic element used heavily by Sean Penn in the movie was intuition. This element was a central theme of many works of Romanticism. The combination of emotion, feeling, and instincts was very key to the character of Christopher McCandless. Penn utilized all three aspects to create a very complex character that is wise beyond his years. His supreme intuition was not given to him through education,his parents, or his friends. It was simply a god-given talent that made McCandless a special human. It was as if throughout the movie, Penn directed McCandless’ journey in a way that it was as if Chris was trying to find an idealist form of intuition and free-will. For example, when leaving Ron Franz, Chris states “I will miss you too, but you are wrong if you think that the joy of life comes principally from the joy of human relationships. God’s place is all around us, it is in everything and in anything we can experience. People just need to change the way they look at things.” While McCandless is giving advice to a man much wiser than he, the same idea of intuition stays the same. McCandless, through his intuition, saw the world differently, as if his own spirit was beckoning him to a better land. The notion of “idealist intuition” was also quite present during the movement of Romanticism. Famous idealists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau emphasized the notion of perfecting one’s intuition, and by doing so one could be a free-willed individual in-sync with nature. While intuition may be one of the more vague and convoluted themes of Romanticism, Penn expertly uses it as a central focus of the movie, thus a reason why we all feel so attached to the journey and life of Christopher McCandless.In conclusion, through the use of the Romantic elements of individuality, imagination, and intuition, director Sean Penn creates a movie that emphasize the notion of free-will, and what it truly means to connect with nature. Penn encapsulates the main ideas of the period of Romanticism, and infuses the world-changing era with a modern and tantalizing plot of the journey of one man.


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