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Monday, August 18, 2008

Into the Wild

As I watched the final few minutes of the film Into the Wild adapted and directed by Sean Penn (2007), my heart began to sink and a knot developed in my throat. My nose grew stuffier as I fought back all the new tears that ran down my face. The film had thrown me a curve ball, and I was not ready for it. The feeling of total disappointment began to envelope my thoughts. After having traveled so far and ostensibly learned so much, Chris McCandless' meets his fate in the most unimaginable of ways.

My expectations had deceived me. I thought if he was going to die in the wild, then of course he would die in a brave and arduous fight with a large grizzly bear. Or no. He would draw his machete and strike at the poisonous snake that crawled into his bed unexpectedly during the night. Perhaps, he would fall in the river and the freezing rapids would wash him away down the mountain as he heroically attempted to keep himself afloat.

He spends countless days and nights in that school bus battling his own shadows and demons. Does he mistakenly eat the wrong plant? Does he reach some kind of conclusion and intentionally poison himself? How much of the truth does he leave behind for others to read? But the most haunting question on my mind... Does he ever really find what he is looking for?

I don't think anyone will ever really know why or how Christopher Johnson McCandless dies. In the end, the film leaves me with a great sense of loss, no inspiration and no sense of accomplishment. Alexander Supertramp, as he calls himself during those last few years of his life, scribbles perhaps one of his last words and realizes that happiness is found when it is shared. Does he really believe he will find happiness alone out in the middle of nowhere, away from humanity? Is his pain or disillusionment with his family so great that he has no intention of ever returning to them?

An adventure and a journey to where? Alaska? No. He doesn't spend all those years wandering from place to place to go "to" Alaska. He searchs for a far away place, any place, cold and barren, void of human noise and human interaction. Snow covered mountain peaks, flowing rivers and abundant wildlife look great in pictures and would serve as an adventurous vacation for a few weeks, but who enjoys starvation and who would subject his body to the elements without necessity? This is not a journey into manhood. It is a futile attempt to escape pain.

Unfortunately, pain travels with us. We just don't leave it behind in another city, burn it or abandon it in the desert. Our pain belongs to us. We cannot trade it, sell it or easily discard it. Many people learn to wear their pain, accept it and move on. Perhaps, Chris in some strange way thinks he can erase himself and start new but only if he can change his name, starve his body and insert new characters into his play. Pretense and lies do not lead to truth and discovery. Denial serves only to prolong that which we fear or suffer from most.

The film reminds me of Steve Irwin's life and his death. Where did he face his greatest enemy? Of all the vicious wild animals that could have killed him, it was the thrashing spear of a docile stingray that ended his life, not in the swamps, jungles or forest but on a crystal clear beach. Death grabbed him when he was most at ease and least afraid. I cannot help but grin at the irony of such things.

Watch the film but don't expect to feel good once it's over.
Eddie Vedder's music beautifully complements the breathtaking scenes.
I have not read the book written by Jon Krakauer(1996) and I probably never will.

Hard Sun, Eddie Vedder


  1. I really liked the book because I like Krakauer so much, but I did feel frustrated with McCandless. There's a lot more detail, of course, in the book than in the movie, but I thought the movie did a good job of relating much of McCandless's journey.

  2. I just watched this movie a few weeks ago. I loved it (I really wasn't sure that I would.)

    I loved that he did something a lot of us would want to do which is to travel around without a "care" having new adventures and meeting new people.

    we can't really know what happened those last few months in the bus, from the movie when he finally realizes that he's ready to go home and face those past demons, it's too late. I really think he was just trying to hold on until the river was once again passable. And per the movie, I really think eating the wrong plant was a mistake.

    But wow, yes, I loved Eddie Vedder's music in this, but then again, I've always been a Vedder fan. He has a poet's soul.

  3. I loved this movie. I really relate to the guy, and want to do something similar. The idea of giving up your possessions to travel freely is really appealing. It sure beats living a boring life doing things you hate.

  4. Hi Small World Reads

    Considering that you are such an avid reader, I trust that you find value in the writer's work. The word frustrated had not occurred to me, but I guess I felt that way too. Thanks for the visit and hope you return.

    Hey Lala

    So glad to know that you too are a Pearl Jam/Eddie Vedder fan...Me Too!!!!
    A poet's soul indeed!

    But Lala he was so smart...almost too smart. How could he eat the wrong plant, a poisonous one? I don't know. Yes...he was brave and daring, living his life to the fullest, following his heart and traveling like the wind but to achieve what? Were his actions not extreme?

    If he had lived, lived to tell his story then maybe I would not feel this disappointed. I guess I am a romantic at heart and love only the happy endings. I do not see a happy ending for anyone involved in this tragic story.

    Hi Hate My Job

    I one should do what he or she hates. You seem to be living a pretty exciting life yourself.

    "The idea of giving up your possessions to travel freely is really appealing." Yes but consider the ramifications. If you give everything up, then what do you have left to travel with? Is the hardship truly worth it or even necessary?

    Thanks so much for the visit. I hope you return.

  5. Well, you have to remember though (that per the movie, because I haven't read the book either) that he was very low on food and was unable to find any game. Hunger and loneliness will not only weaken your body but also your mind. It also seemed he kind of started to panic. That's the way I interpreted it.

    But you know, no one really knows what was in his head.

  6. "no one really knows what was in his head" --That's my point exactly.

    You are right. He was probably very hungry and confused at that point. And I guess that's what breaks my heart.
    I hurt for the mother that never saw her son again... I hurt for the sister. And I hurt terribly for him at the end...

  7. I loved the book and I enjoyed the movie. He was always planning to go back to the "real world." He was young and off on a mission to find himself. I think you get a better sense of why he died in the book than in the movie. He was starving (as I remember) and his mind wasn't as sharp as it should have been.
    To me, it was a poignant, sad story of a loss of a very young and brilliant boy/man who would have had a lot to offer as he matured.
    P.S. - I love Pearl Jam too!

  8. I'd read the book--and in fact loved it--a couple of the times--even subjected a class full of college students to it--before seeing the film, so knew what to expect. Then, I have a personal connection--or parallel--to it. I was as alienated as McCandless in my twenties, with similar intentions of escaping from humanity. And, in fact, the very summer--1992--he spent in the Alaskan bush, I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. I came back and he didn't. I remember talking to a friend about the book and saying I thought maybe he was braver than I was, more willing to really go cut himself off and go deep. My friend said he thought, actually I was braver, because I wasn't as afraid of living with other human beings. I still dunno. May have to write a blog post about this myself....

  9. Thanks also for the Eddie Vedder songs--I hadn't heard them outside of the context of the film....

  10. Hi Mountain Woman

    I knew there was something special about you...a connection of sorts. Hey, another Pearl Jam fan!!!!

    It appears quite a few people liked the book and the film. So what is wrong with me?

  11. Dear Mar, for the third time I visit this VERY intriguing post, only this time I wrote a comment. But when I pasted it into MS Word and saw that it was 2 pages long. LOL LOL I decided to not paste it here. Maybe what I'll do a post on it sometime and make a link back here to your site. I just didn't think you'd want a comment running 3 miles down the page. LOL It was hard to restrain myself, because you inspire me!

    Having live wild for many years I relate to intensely to Chris (read the book) and this topic so well. Anyway, wanted to let you know. Also sending you lots of hugs..."right now". :)

  12. I read the book and watched the movie. I think Chris should have stayed with the man who he lived with in the desert. Things would have worked out a lot better. His death was a needless waste. Have you read "Into Thin Air", also by Jon Krakauer? It is about climbing Mt. Everest. I loved that book and couldn't put it down. I read it in two days.


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