Into the Wild is a movie based on the true story of Christopher McCandless. After he graduated from university in Atlanta, he disappeared, seemingly without trace. He drove out west in search of adventure, in effect to find himself. On the course of his journey, he lost his car in a flash flood, and ended up walking, canoeing and camping to continue his journey. In his desire to find meaning, he eradicated his identity, burning his driving license and social security card, and reinvented himself as “Alexander Supertramp”. He was convinced that the way to find true meaning and happiness was to go into the wild, so he headed for Alaska, woefully unprepared. I should warn you that spoilers follow….
There has been lots written about Christopher McCandless and the mistakes he made. I’m not going to repeat that here, but I will make two points:
Chris McCandless was portrayed in the film as determined to escape the life of western materialism that he was born into. He considered it to be a lie. Why? Well, he discovered truths about his parents that undermined his confidence in them – his father had another family that had been kept secret. He remembered the time when his parents sat he and his sister down around the dinner table and informed them they were going to get a divorce, and they should pick which parent they wanted to live with. The divorce never happened, but the marriage didn’t get any happier. He witnessed blazing arguments and even violence between his mother and father. All the time, the family kept up the appearance of a well-kept, happy, loving family, which had fun together, spent time together and went to church together – living the American dream. It is this that led Chris McCandless into leaving, going into the wild to find himself. I guess the message that the film gave to me was that a lack of integrity between inner life and family and outward appearance can be very damaging indeed. It is indeed, living a lie.
Secondly, the film portrayed Chris as leaving to find himself and find happiness. He was convinced the only way of doing this was to go into the wild on his own, survive by himself, and commune with nature. On his way out there he met many interesting people, from farm labourers in South Dakota, to Hippies in Slab City, to a nice old man in Northern California. From each person he learns, and enjoys their company. But he was still convinced that Alaska was the place to go. He headed out beyond Fairbanks and finds an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere which had previously been used as a hunting shelter. He makes this his home and starts to hunt and scavenge. At one point it seems that he has learned his lesson and found himself, so he starts to make his way home, only to find that a river that he crossed on his way out had swelled and was impassible. He reluctantly returns to the bus. This time he is overcome by desperation and loneliness. At the end of the film, when Chris is dying from starvation – there had been a lack of animals he could hunt for food – he writes in his journal: “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED” – and he remembers all the interesting relationships he struck up on his journey out West. I think this is a good point – happiness comes from relationships, with each other and with God, not through achieving tasks or ‘finding oneself’. It’s a shame that Chris had to be on the point of death to realise this.
The movie itself is beautifully shot – not difficult considering the beautiful surroundings of the countryside of Alaska and the West Coast. The Acting from Emile Hirsch and others is excellent. Well worth watching.
A set of photos from the bus which Chris made his home can be found here.