Film: Signature Moments
December 28, 2007
“Into the Wild” was one of the year’s best films for many reasons, not least Emile Hirsch’s breakout performance as the young adventurer Christopher McCandless and Sean Penn’s expansive, assured filmmaking. But in the midst of all the breathtaking scenery of the American West and the film’s densely layered road narrative, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene that comes as a brief but memorable shock: when Hirsch, eating an apple and extolling its virtues (“You’re the apple of my eye”) looks directly at the camera, jokingly offering the camera ” and by extension us ” a bite.
It’s a Brechtian moment, one that momentarily interrupts the narrative and tacitly implicates the audience in McCandless’ own search for meaning. At once jarring, disarming and audacious, the little break in fourth-wall separation is narratively “wrong,” disrupting the conceit of an otherwise objective story and tearing through the scrim that neatly separates art and life. But morally it’s absolutely right, inviting viewers along on the journey and, what’s more, suggesting that we’re already on it, whether we admit it or not.