Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I totally used one paragraph!

If you wandered aimlessly around the country for two years, and then through your own hubris ended up dead in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, do you think anyone would make a movie about you?

So, what makes the story of Chris McCandles so film worthy?

Ok, I live in Detroit. What if someone came to Detroit and got a bad neighborhood...and knowing that they were going into a bad neighborhood...and they didn't really have a reason to be there aside from not having a reason to be anywhere else either? Isn't that essentially what McCandles (aka Alexander Supertramp) did?

After graduating from Emory, Chris takes off on a cross country trip, ditching his car, burning his money and living as a tramp. Basically taking odd jobs and hitch hiking. He dreams of going to Alaska and severing his ties to society.  Along the way he meets a couple of hippies, a grain elevator operator and an old man.

Sean Penn's adaptation of the book by the same name is woefully inadequate to really tell the story of Alexander Supertramp, aka Chris McCandles. Penn does very little to really show the dangers that McCandles faced and how woefully unprepared he was for the journey he undertook. Penn glances over these things, choosing only to show bits and pieces of the trip taken by this boy. And while the film may leave some with a warm and fuzzy feeling, the truth is that it fails as a narrative. There is no real story here. There is no character development. There are no lessons learned. There is no climax. It's a meandering look at two years in the life of one person.

The thing that stands out about the book isn't that Chris, aka Alex, wanders off to quote Jack London and Thoreau. It's the impact that the young man has on the people he meets. That he met so many people who thought so highly of him is the real story. Don't take that as some backhanded insult either. I mean it. His interactions with people and the stories he left behind of the lives he touched, that's his real legacy. And, the truth is, his story is better suited to more of an oral biography. Let the characters tell the story. Use voice overs to talk about the character and flesh out Chris' life story. One of the best and most touching parts of the movie is the narration of his sister, played by Jena Malone. Use more of that to bring to life this character who didn't keep detailed enough journals to know what he was really thinking about. Let Wayne and Ron and Jan talk about the character and his impact on them. That's the real story, not that some idealistic twit wandered off into the wilderness of Alaska with a bag of rice, a .22 and a book on edible plants hoping to survive.