I had not planned to do movie reviews on the blog, but I've realized that there are some movies, and even tv shows, that fit into the theme of the blog and deserve to be mentioned. The first of those movies, which I recently watched for the first time, is Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Sean Penn. Please note that this review does contain spoilers, so if you've not seen it yet, and plan to do so, you might not want to continue reading.
The film is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer's book, also called Into the Wild, which details the real-life wanderings of Chris McCandless and his eventual demise in the Alaskan Wilderness. I have yet to read the book, so don't know if the film is true to it or not. After having seen the movie, though, I have every intention of also reading the book.
It is likely that many are already familiar with the story of Chris McCandless, but for those, like myself before seeing the movie, who are not, I will provide a brief summary, as portrayed in the film. After becoming unhappy with the society in which he lived, including the materialist mindset of his parents, McCandless decided to take a journey to find himself. After graduating from college he donated the remainder of his college fund, which he was suppose to use for law school, to charity, and hit the road. Knowing that his parents would try to stop him, he told no one of his plans, including his sister, who narrates parts the movie that focus on how his family deals with his absence.
Along the way, McCandless abandons his car, after it was caught in a flash flood. He continues his journey by hitchhiking and train-hopping his way across the country. Deciding that it is unwise to use his real name, he eventually adopts the alias of Alexander Supertramp. Along the way he meets several people whom he forms connections with, sometimes temporary, sometimes longer term. Throughout his travels, Alex, as he is now calling himself, tells those he meets about his plans for a grand Alaskan adventure. After two years of this lifestyle, he eventually makes his way to Alaska, and journeys, with meager supplies, into the wilderness.
Shortly after hiking into the wilderness he finds an abandoned bus, where he sets up camp. He lives here for the next four months, living off the land and a small amount of food he packed in with him. As food more and more scarce, he becomes increasingly frustrated with this situation. This leads him to mistakenly eat a toxic plant, which leaves him in a weakened state, and eventually leads to his demise. The film ends with a shot of McCandless' body lying in the bus.
There is much debate as to what actually caused McCandless death. The author of the book made some assumptions, based on the journals that were left behind. Many people question those assumptions. There is also a lot of controversy regarding the positive portrayal of McCandless in general. It seems that many, especially those experienced with living in the Alaskan bush, feel that his lack of preparation was foolhardy, irresponsible, and some even claim suicidal.
Personally, I feel a strong connection to McCandless, at least as portrayed in the movie. His sense of unhappiness with the focus of society on unimportant things, such as material possessions, is something that I feel myself. I could never, however, leave my family behind and live such a spontaneous life. I have a great deal of admiration, though, for those who can, especially when doing so in search of themselves.
This film also makes me think about the how we have become so reliant on technology, that people have questioned McCandless' sanity for daring to go into the wilderness without a compass or map. There was a time when humans roamed North America with nothing more than primitive tools and instincts. As those primitive tools have been replaced by more technologically advanced ones, the instincts have been replaced with, well I'm not quite sure what. I believe that McCandless set out to prove, to himself, that he could make it without the luxuries of modern society. I feel that the negative reactions to his attempt may have proved as much or more than his death. I suppose those questions about his sanity are similar to the questions that arise anytime someone voluntarily gives up modern conveniences, whether off-grid homesteaders or minimalists living in an apartment in the city.
I believe that Chris McCandless was far from insane. In fact, I think he was one of the few people able to see through the curtain of modern society, and focus on what is really authentic and true. I like to think of these people as visionaries, who are able to see a better future in which humans begin to regain our connection with nature, and ability to live cooperatively within it, rather than fighting against it as we do now. I have to wonder if the life that McCandless lived during time on the road and in the wilderness might not have been a better life than many of us live over a period of decades.