On this day in 2007, Into the Wild, a film directed and co-written by Sean Penn and based on the true story of a young adventurer who died in Alaska, debuts at the Telluride Film Festival before opening in wide release the following month.
Into the Wild was based on Jon Krakauer’s 1996 best-selling non-fiction book of the same name about Chris McCandless, who, after graduating from college in 1990, dropped out of society, gave away his money and car and began wandering around the United States. He eventually traveled to Alaska, where he spent several months living in the wilderness, sleeping in an abandoned bus and keeping a journal chronicling his thoughts and experiences. In August 1992, McCandless died at the age of 24, possibly of starvation or from eating some toxic seeds. His body was discovered in the bus several weeks later.
In the film, the actor Emile Hirsch, who was born on March 13, 1985, played McCandless; he reportedly lost 40 pounds for the role. In addition to the veteran actor Hal Holbrook, who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as an older man who meets McCandless on the way and thinks of him as a kind of grandson, the acclaimed cast of Into the Wild included Catherine Keener, William Hurt, Vince Vaughan, Jena Malone and Marcia Gay Harden.
Into the Wild marked Sean Penn’s fourth time in the director’s chair. He made his directorial debut with 1991’s The Indian Runner, with Viggo Mortensen and David Morse, and followed up with The Crossing Guard (1995) and The Pledge (2001), both of which starred Jack Nicholson. Penn, who was born on August 17, 1960, made his feature-film acting debut in 1981’s Taps and the following year gained notice as the surfer-stoner Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He went on to a lengthy list of critically acclaimed performances in such movies as Bad Boys (1983), At Close Range (1986), Casualties of War (1989) and Dead Man Walking (1995), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Penn earned two more Oscar nods, for his starring turns in Sweet and Lowdown (1999) and I Am Sam (2001), before taking home his first Best Actor statuette for Mystic River (2003).