What’s in a Scene?

Into the Wild

To view this film’s official website with footage for the analyzed scene click here.

Personal Perspective:

Part of what makes this movie so good is the director’s (Sean Penn) creative editing techniques. You cannot help but feel a strong connection with the main character (Christopher) because you are able to gain a strong sense of his emotional state, where he is coming from, and why he feels the need to be such a free, adventurous spirit. There is one scene in particular that really defines Christopher’s relationship with his parents (the root to all of his problems). It is about 15 minutes into the movie and it is when he meets his parents at a restaurant to celebrate his college graduation. My initial reaction to the scene is that his parents are uptight, religious, and conservative people who think they can fix any problem with money. Christopher comes across as the type who despises everything his parents are and have ever hoped to be. The tension between father and son is very obvious. These initial conceptions of characters are further defined throughout the film because Sean Penn uses elliptical editing by providing flashbacks and flashforwards so that you can more thoroughly understand why Christopher hates material things, hates his parents, and hates society in general.

Historical Perspective:

This movie is based on a true story. It takes place in the early 90’s and it is about a young college graduate who has had a troubled past. He grew up with parents who physically and verbally abused each other and tried to cover up their problems with material things. He has given up all hope on human kind and he wants nothing more than to be free of society as he knows it. He gives his life savings to charity and sets out all alone on an amazing adventure, into the wild. I vaguely remember hearing about this story when it happened in 1992 and even though I was a young teenager myself, I remember feeling more sympathy for his parents than for this presumably self-absorbed kid who disowned his family to take on the challenges of nature, unprepared for what he was exposing himself to. This movie gives a different perspective. It makes you question the way we live as a society. Instead of appreciating what life has to offer, we use and abuse each other to get ahead, to make more money, and to become something we were not intended to be. Instead of enjoying this planet, we are destroying it. With all of the talk about global warming and the new biological hypotheses being circulated today about the future of our planet and life as we know it, this film fits perfectly into a genre that many people can relate to.

Technical Perspective:

The scene in the restaurant begins with Chris’s parents impatiently waiting for him and his sister to arrive. There is a sound bridge of Chris reciting a passage from a book that relates to how his parents are not meant for one another. You hear his voice speak of the terrible things that come to people such as his parents as you watch an extreme close-up of their hands fidgeting with their silverware and glasses of water, panning from one parent to the other. It cuts away to a car pulling up in front of the restaurant and zooms into the people in the car, Chris and his sister. As Chris walks into the restaurant to meet his parents an  over-the-shoulder shot is used to continually focus on his father. This shows that he is the authority figure and he demands respect. Moments into their conversation a rowdy bunch of sports fans burst into the restaurant and again the camera stays focused on Chris’s father who shows complete distaste for the inappropriate behavior of the kids. This shows his uptightness, his intolerance for fun, and distaste for living freely. There is a quick establishing shot of the atmosphere: the loud partiers, the sense of urgency in the kitchen, and then a racking focus back onto the stiff, formal setting at Chris’s table. Throughout the rest of the scene there is a patterned use of transition between extreme close-up shots and reverse shots of the family members. The eyeline matches point out how the characters are reading each other. For example, there is a shot of Chris looking at his mother while his father is reprimanding him and then the next shot is a close-up of his mothers hand pushing the food around on her plate. In other words, he notices how his father’s behavior makes her feel uncomfortable. A shot of Chris looking at his father quickly changes into a close-up of his father’s tense hand with bulging veins. His sister never takes her eyes off of Chris, showing she is sympathetic to his feelings. The way in which these shots were edited together tell a lot about the types of relationships these people have with one another. The setting and lighting also influence the message trying to be conveyed. There is low contrast lighting that creates an atmosphere that is realistic. The bright sun is shinning through providing a light that is almost stark and uncomfortable, like his relationship with his family. The setting is a bit distracting but it shows that life goes on despite the conflicts occurring between these parents and their son.

Ethical, Cultural, & Critical Perspective:

Children rebelling against their parents ideals is nothing new but it might make some people feel uncomfortable to watch because maybe they are not proud of past behavior or family decisions made in their own life. It is not unethical to show this type of behavior because it is reality. In our culture, we are expected to treat our parents with respect. Or at least we were expected to treat our parents with respect. I say this because younger generations seem to be less inclined to do so than what I thought to be appropriate as a young teenager. The behavior of Chris, abandoning his family for a new life, is quite extreme but, the trauma he was forced to deal with his whole life was also extreme and unfair. Even though Chris was rebellious and ungrateful towards his family, it is still difficult to not feel sorry for him. This scene of the movie is very powerful because it displays the type of life many people find themselves “dealing with”. The sad thing is, is that most people don’t do anything about it, like Chris did. 



3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    adriennerhea said,

    I love your personal and historical statement on this movie. I have not seen it, but after reading your statements I want to. You do a great job describing the technical part of the scene! I can tell you really focused when watching the scene to get even the most subtle detials! Good job.

  2. 2

    lhyne said,

    I really like your historical analysis of this movie. Not only is this a great movie but you can tell you’re passionate about the subject from your analysis. And I think you’re right. People are always looking out for what’s best for them when really we should be helping each other and helping the environment as well. Also, great job doing into detail on your technical analysis!

  3. 3

    ferreri said,

    I saw about half of this movie and thought it was pretty good. Thanks to your historical knowledge of the movie I think I’ll watch it all the way through. It’s crazy to think that sometimes people in general just want to “get away from it all” and he actually did. I’m curious to know, a more in depth look at his back story though. What would it take for you to get to that point of packing up and leaving everything behind?

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