Finding oneself while traveling: it's a classic literary theme from Siddhartha to On The Road, and a somewhat overused trope in contemporary page-turners-turned-blockbusters.
But the process comes full circle when film adaptations inspire further adventure. Books such as Into the Wild, Lord of the Rings, and Eat, Pray, Love prompted spikes in tourism to Alaska, New Zealand, and Italy, respectively – and Wild, the film of Cheryl Strayed's memoir about walking the Pacific Crest Trail, which bagged Reese Witherspoon a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars, has scores of viewers rummaging in the hall closet for their long-lost hiking boots.
Seeking a little cinematic inspiration before planning your next trip? Here's what to watch on the silver screen this year.
In the Heart of the Sea
Ron Howard's new thriller (intheheartoftheseamovie.com), set for release in December, recounts the same real-life maritime disaster that inspired Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. In 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was attacked by a giant whale, leaving the crew adrift and struggling to survive in open sea.
You're not alone if the prospect of fighting for your life – starving and weather-beaten, a menacing aquatic mammal lurking beneath your broken boat – makes you feel like avoiding the water. But few (if any) whales share the homicidal disposition of Captain Ahab’s nemesis; the southern right whales are gentle, and easy to spot, off the Atlantic coast of Argentina. Plan a trip to Península Valdés during mating season, between June and December; if you camp out near Puerto Piramides, you can hear whale calls at night.
Not your standard walk around the block: due out in October, Robert Zemeckis' latest film (thewalkmovie.tumblr.com) stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist who famously walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in August 1974.
If watching Petit's feat (which he called ‘le coup’) brings out your inner daredevil, consider taking a high-wire class (lemonloo.com) in the French Alps. Bonne chance – good luck.
Alternatively, for a good reason to return to the scene of his stunt, keep your ear to the ground this spring for the opening of the One World Observatory (oneworldobservatory.com), the new observation deck of New York’s One World Trade Center.
The Early Years
The Italian director Paolo Sorrentino won an Oscar in 2013 for his first foreign-language film, The Great Beauty. His follow-up effort, La Giovinezza (The Early Years), (imdb.com) stars Michael Caine as a retired orchestra conductor who's called by the Queen of England to perform at Buckingham Palace. The story begins with Caine's character on vacation with his family in the Alps; some of the following scenes were shot in Rome.
The Sea of Trees
The Sea of Trees (imdb.com) is the latest from Gus Van Sant, the celebrated filmmaker who's received two Oscar nominations for Best Director – first for Good Will Hunting (1997), and later for Milk (2008).
It's a survival thriller with a dark premise: two tormented travelers, one American and one Japanese, meet, and then get lost, in a forest near Mt Fuji. It's not just any forest: Aokigahara, also known as ‘the Sea of Trees’, is the second most popular place in the world to commit suicide (San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has the unhappy distinction of being number one).
You don’t have to be grappling with the meaning of your own existence to plan a trip to one of the world’s most pristine forests, though; most people find it a life-affirming experience. Consider a visit to the bird-watching paradise of Daintree National Park, Australia, or the northern boreal forests of Denali National Park, Alaska.
The Light Between Oceans
Set on an isolated island off the coast of Western Australia, The Light Between Oceans (imdb.com) is based on the bestselling debut novel by ML Stedman and directed by Derek Cianfrance, best known as the creative force behind the moody Blue Valentine. The film follows the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife – and the baby they discover, adrift on a rowboat, and decide to raise as their own.
If you can't make it to the windswept seascapes of Western Australia on vacation, seek out more accessible lighthouses with historical clout – the 800-year-old lighthouse at Hook Head, Ireland, for example, is the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Or choose one of the most impressive lighthouses in France, New Zealand, the US, South Africa, and India.
Director-screenwriter Hirokazu Kore-eda is considered a modern legend in his native Japan; his 2013 film Like Father, Like Son took the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. So his newest project, Kamakura Diary (imdb.com) – a film adaptation of a wildly popular manga series featuring the lives of four sisters – is one to look for this summer.
If the film's scenic setting in Kamakura, a coastal city located an hour south of Tokyo, has you wondering about off-the-beaten-path beaches in Japan, consider planning a trip to the beautiful and historic islands of Kyūshū and Shikoku.
That's ‘sir’ to you: Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley star in Autobahn (imdb.com), set for release in October. The chase thriller follows the story of an American backpacker who, desperate to find a way to pay for his girlfriend's emergency surgery, gets caught up in a drug ring in Munich. As the title suggests, the action plays out on Germany's high-speed highways.
Plan your own European road trip – preferably without any drug lords pursuing you at high speed – along the German and Swiss autobahn, Italy’s autostrade, and the French autoroute.
The details of the mysterious new sci-fi thriller, produced by Walt Disney and starring George Clooney as a former boy-genius who travels through space and time, are relatively hush-hush. But as the name suggests, Tomorrowland (tomorrowland-movie.com) was partly inspired by the innovative work of Disney’s original Imagineers – and has supposedly been in the works since 1952.
Where better to appreciate their vision than at their original headquarters? Go back to where it all started: the original Tomorrowland, a futuristic playground with vintage space-age architecture and edible landscaping, at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
Based on Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer's account of the Mt Everest disaster of 1996, Everest (imdb.com) stars Jake Gyllenhaal as one of several climbers who – spoiler alert – dies while attempting to ascend the highest mountain on earth. Filmed in the Italian Alps and Nepal, the film will hit screens in September.
If you're in the mood for a mountaineering adventure but not inclined to risk your life in a high-altitude snowstorm, consider other classic treks, like a four-day adventure on the Inca Trail in Peru, considered the most famous hike in South America.