The self-portrait at left is the last picture ever taken of Christopher McCandless. In fact, it’s one of the few real images of him we have. Reader’s of Jon Krakauer’s 1997 book Into the Wild will recognize it as the only photograph of him in that mesmerizing biography. One of the curious facts about McCandless (an ascetic, quixotic adventurer who died of starvation in the Alaska wilderness at age 24) is that he carried a camera — one of his only modern accouterments — with him during his Alaskan sojourn, along with a rifle, a scant amount of rice and gear, his journal, and a few high-minded books by the likes of Thoreau and Tolstoy. In the new film adaptation of Into the Wild directed by Sean Penn, this self-portrait makes a powerful appearance at the end of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s arguably the most authentic and moving moment in the film.
This is not for a lack of trying. Tangentially based on Krakauer’s book with a screenplay by Penn, the movie tries very hard to be both authentic and moving — and many times it succeeds. It’s those other times, when it tries too hard and comes off hokey, that drag it down.