The Call of the Wild
USA, 2007, 115 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Coming of Age, Documentary, Drama, Nature, Road Movie
Mounting a thoughtful challenge to Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (and actor-director Sean Penn's screen adaptation thereof), The Call of the Wild presents an alternative to the popular account of Chris McCandless, the self-styled “aesthetic voyager” who died alone in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 at age 24. Literally following in McCandless's footsteps, documentary filmmaker Ron Lamothe embarks on a quest that takes him through Mexico, 30 states and two Canadian provinces – all the way to Alaska's Stampede Trail north of Mount Denali and the abandoned bus McCandless called home. Along the way he encounters a wealth of McCandlessesque characters, both acquaintances of and strangers to the adventurer – from Leonard Knight, the 70-something sculptor of Salvation Mountain, to a teenaged trio foraging for hallucinogenic mushrooms. From his interviews with them, he assembles a mosaic of perspectives that shape and color McCandless's biography, revealing how he truly lived and providing clues to how he may actually have died. Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, Lamothe endures several run-ins with Penn, who is in the midst of his own McCandless-inspired production – and who has the clout to thwart Lamothe at many a turn. Nevertheless, Lamothe manages to uncover evidence that sheds new light on the McCandless case, directly contradicting Krakauer's determination that the cause of death was food poisoning.
Ultimately, however, what lies at the film's core is Lamothe's own journey of discovery. The conceit allows him to explore the concept of wilderness and its influence on the American psyche, as well as its reflection on our cultural landscape; the generation gap as measured by changing rites of passage; and the disparity between independent and Hollywood filmmaking. In the end, Lamothe asks us to consider whether the facts of McCandless' life are as compelling as the opportunity they provide for subverting, as much as celebrating, the romantic paradigm he has come to embody.
In person – Ron Lamothe
DIRECTOR: Ron Lamothe
Producer: Ron Lamothe