The book tells the hauntingly true story of 22-year-old Chris McCandless, who walked away from his privileged life and into the wild in search of adventure. The movie which was produced, written and directed by Penn, and stars Emile Hirsch, opens this Friday in limited release. We asked Penn about the film which is so dear to his heart.
Q: Youíve made three movies about men trying to escape their past (The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard and The Pledge). Is that a conscious thing you like exploring?
A: I could probably give you a long-winded answer that would have some truth to it, but I would say the basic nature of it is not very analytical in terms of something I looked at various things at various times. Itís probably first and foremost a man trying to come to terms with himself and his past.
Q: How did you discover this young manís story and why did you want to make it into a movie?
A: I read the book when it came out. I started to get the rights to it the next day. One of the things that made me so interested in this story is that itís true of everybody, this is a very universal thing, this wanderlust. This is the movie I intended to make. It would be very fair for somebody to criticize something they donít like in the movie or that they felt more intelligent or heartfelt than about something. It would be factually wrong for them to say that I hadnít told the story as I intended. I feel complete.
Q: Have Chris McCandlessí family seen the movie and have they shared their feelings about it?
A: Oh yes, I canít go to the point of disclosing private conversations with them, this was an incredibly selfless and brave thing in my view for them to allow his story to be shared. At the end of the day Iím always aware that if you take away all the flaws of the family, youíve still got two parents who are watching the story of their lost child they loved, dying, so this is not a pleasant experience for them. I hope that it will be a healing one and I know that theyíre very supportive of it.
Q: What qualities did Emile Hirsch have where you would trust him with such an important role?
A: You used to be able to get some pretty intriguing brooders out of the young generation. Today you can get the clever, the witty, the sexy and the charming, but none of those things happen to be the proper tool for this kit. I needed somebody who had a talent, a will, and also to photograph somebody going from boy to man, so youíre catching somebody on that cusp. So it was all those things that Emile had that I donít know another [actor] who has.
Q: If Alaska hadnít been the climax of Chrisí life, what do you think he would be doing now?
A: For what itís worth, my romantic vision of it is heíd be doing what Jon Krakauer is doing, heíd be adventuring more and writing about it, but your guess is as good as mine beyond that.
Q: What would you like the audience to take away from this film?
A: Whatever they want to, good or bad.