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A closer Look at Into the Wild

by Archives October 9, 2007

Chris McCandless died in August 1992 in an abandoned bus deep in the Alaskan wilderness.
Just two years had passed since he left his family along with the privilege of being American middle-class. He never looked back, never wrote. He gave up all his material possessions and changed his name playfully to Alexander Supertramp. This is a true story about a vagabond who saw the forest from the trees; Into the Wild is the movie.
Gently, director Sean Penn affirms, “Alaska will change you, it will let you know what is needed and what you don’t.” Penn is referring to both Chris McCandless’ dichotomous goal in Alaska as well as the crew’s own experience filming on location.
The film crew went on location across America, retracing the footsteps of one young man’s exercise in freedom.
Emile Hirsche (Lords of Dogtown) superbly portrays Chris McCandless. The screenplay for Into the Wild, written by Penn, is based on the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. The novel was based on McCandless’ journal entries.
The protagonist needs only the bare necessities on his voyage and works only for sustenance (he gives away a $24,000 trust fund and dislikes having extra money). Rather than accumulating physical wealth, his plight is for freedom and his own brand of happiness, which in turn leads perilously to his demise.
The message is clear. “Go on your own adventure,” proclaims Hirsche, “don’t get trapped into living your life comfortably,” adds Penn.
This is the film’s poignant political statement. McCandless’ destitute demise is not simply one of reckless abandon; it starts as a flight from society – propelled by a sense of wanderlust mixed a superabundance of energy.
It is about a calling, or, as McCandless said, ‘reaching out and grabbing what you want in life.’
He discovered a deeper meaning to his existence than society had to offer him. Society – starting with his warring family – didn’t measure up to his high moral values.
The film exposes McCandless’ mysterious story objectively. The audience is left to gauge what was noble and brave and what was foolish and reckless.
On a certain self-defined plane, each person can admire McCandless’ plight, everyone can contemplate his perniciousness.
McCandless’ is immortalized along with his spiteful disregard for conventional America.
To some he will be a hero, to others a martyr and to very few, a fool. His story teaches us about ourselves, and like a heroes tragic tale, it expands our own self-understanding.
Visually, the film’s a stunning slide show of wild America. The sound track is supplied by Eddie Vedder’s (Pearl Jam) macabre and howling cry, one that echoes as if crooning from McCandless’ very soul.
In Into the Wild, McCandless meets many outlandish and alternative characters. All of which draw a line between the everyday man and McCandless. Vince Vaughn plays Wayne, a good-hearted troublemaker with a favorite-uncle type reverence. Ron Franz is Hal Halbrooke, a grandfather figure to Chris.
Two hippies show McCandless what love and compromise can be. He touches all of them, then leaves them all behind.
Penn hopes the audience will want to find ‘a complete vision of their own, as I am to my own’, after viewing the film. One described it as ‘stripped of societies conditioning’.
At the end of the film, many left the theatre quietly. It seemed as though most weren’t sure what to make of McCandless’ example and were perhaps contemplating the example they lead in their lives. Like all great films, this one leaves the theatre with you.
McCandless’ story needed to be told, his beautiful and tragic coming-of-age journey questions whether our contemporary values need to adjust and become the wiser.
It’s telling that, McCandless, the product and poster-child of America in his youth grew to oppose his culture, will him to retract from society and finally die alone – all in the name of freedom.
One final realization haunts McCandless’ demise: happiness only can truly exist, if shared. Importantly then, Penn and Hirsche have shared with us his happiness.

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