I went to see this film curious how it would compare to “Into the Wild.” You know the trite sayings like “Not all who wander are lost”? I have been looking for someone who chooses this life and also, well, isn’t lost. Hint: I still haven’t found that story.
Director Nanfu Wang is curious about the same, and follows Dylan, who she thinks may be that ideal. She discovers that the story is more complicated, and Dylan himself eventually admits that he didn’t really have a choice about his lifestyle.
Based on the trailer, I thought Dylan would be a criminal mastermind. There’s a snippet of a SWAT team breaking down a door. The mundane explanation is that Dylan’s father is a detective and the SWAT team had nothing to do with him.
Still, the director asks interesting questions. Like, “why are people so generous to Dylan, but not to other homeless people?” Is it because he’s attractive and personable? Or could it have something to do with his having chosen the life? She asks herself if she is exploiting him. She asks and answers whether his choice to live on the streets is a result of his family life.
In the end, this movie is about the romance of something that may not exist*: the person who truly chooses this life for themselves in a clear-eyed and thoughtful way. That person isn’t Dylan, at least.
* Yes, I still need to read Walden. It’s probably the closest I’ll find.