Great movie! Great scenery, good music. The screenplay is based on a book, which is based on a magazine article, which is based on the true story of a young man who goes off into the Alaskan wilderness and dies there. The story of his death is intercut with his adventures on the way to Alaska. It’s a road movie. The ending is tragic, but he meets the obligatory offbeat characters on the way, and we get a glimpse of some unusual locations. Slab City is a real place, and so is Salvation Mountain.
I find it difficult to watch a movie about foolish youthful dreams through risk-averse middle-aged eyes. On the one hand, I see a kindred spirit, a fellow seeker of regruntlement in a way. On the other hand, I see an idiot, who does one stupid thing after another, until he finally does something so stupid that it kills him.
Alex, the young man, burns his remaining cash in the desert, to what, set himself free? Later we see him making fries in a fast-food kitchen. The manager tells him that he will have to start wearing socks, and he walks away. This establishes him as a man of principle. But what exactly is the principle? That he will take a minimum-wage McJob to replace the money that he burned, but he won’t wear socks? Wouldn’t it have been smarter not to burn the money in the first place? But that would deprive us of two dramatic scenes: the money burning in the desert, and the confrontation over the socks.
I don’t know how true to life the movie is. It’s not a true story, it’s “based on” a true story twice removed. The socks incident and Slab City are not in the magazine article. On the other hand, there are things in the article and book that didn’t make it into the movie.
The movie business is about drama, not logic, and sometimes characters have to do stupid things to move the story along. Maybe there’s a lesson here. Maybe Alex thought his life was a movie, and his story would be more dramatic if he did some really stupid things.