Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer’s exhaustive, insightful, if sometimes bleary-eyed look at the life of Christopher J. McCandless, and his unfortunate death in the Alaskan taiga during the summer of 1992. An admittedly semi-objective biographer, Krakauer is able to get past his infatuation to give a deep, even beautiful account of this young man’s life and how he affected those around him.
After reading the book, and dubious of Hollywood’s popcorn culture, I expected the movie to be an idealistic, hero-worship story of a man-boy searching for himself amidst a cast of wacky characters and weepy out-of-touch parents, but bravo Sean Penn, I was wrong. The film was engrossing, and deeply moving. It did smooth over several key points in the book, but I’m sure the book glossed over some key points in the truth. On both fronts we are left with a worthwhile story that actually inspired thought as opposed to only inspiring another handful of popcorn.
I found myself relating to the character of Chris McCandless though I didn’t find him noble, at least no more noble than myriad young men who’ve searched for truth in their lives. Reading between the lines I felt his anger, his narcissism, and an immaturity that, several years out of college he still held on to. His too-late realization of these issues, before a series of seemingly simple errors lead to his death, left me aching with sympathy.
On another level I know this guy. I have a daughter who is about the same age as McCandless when he began his wandering, and I very clearly remember myself at his age. I knew something wasn’t right, and I too ran away. Not to the desert or the frozen north, but into the arms of a beautiful woman, and into a life I was no more ready for than was McCandless. Like his Alaskan Adventure, I thought marriage, family and a mortgage would solve my problems, quiet my demons, in effect be The Answer.
Part of me sees McCandless’ death as a coward’s suicide. So wrapped up inside his own trunk as not to see the forest. Yet another part of me can understand a plan gone awry. After the death of my hastily built fortress, leaky and incongruent, I fought through years of my own wilderness, hurting those who came close, and lashing out in silence at a world thought unfair and cold. When I finally endeavored to look up, the pieces of life were hard to find.
Have I come out the other side? I don’t know. What I do know is that while I feel for Chris McCandless and for those out there like him, you can’t just climb up a mountain and die there, figuratively or otherwise. Life isn’t that easy! You must come down from the mountain, and bring what you’ve found there into the world.
Leave a Comment December 15, 2007