into the wild

a few days ago, I saw a premiere of the new film Into the Wild. I knew very little about it going in, except that it told the story of a young man rejecting the standard path after graduating college, and pursuing a different sort of dream, inspired more by tolstoy or thoreau than by trump or bill gates. I am glad not to have known much else when I saw it, & so would recommend that if you intend to see it, you don’t read about it first (unless you already read the book / know the story). in other words, SPOILERS ahead :).

The movie itself was an interesting mix of different tendencies, for me. It definitely felt like it was told from the perspective of someone young, as opposed to giving a more objective picture by showing the faults, naivete, melodrama and egotism of the kid. But perhaps it did show those things by showing it from his perspective, in that they were evident, just not commented upon for the most part – he was portrayed as a bit melodramatic, I guess, but also as somewhat pure and wise, when perhaps he was just kind of innocent. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t a great person, but simply that some of the things he considered tragic about his life were honestly hardly tragic at all, and it was probably simply due to his not having lived very long that he didn’t have the perspective to really understand that. To him, for instance, his parents’ fighting and his father’s first marriage were cause for a deep sense of pain and alienation, whereas from an outsider’s point of view, he had dealt with some shit, but it really wasn’t that bad.

At the same time, the original impulse to leave the worldly world for something more raw and beautiful is certainly one that I understand, and I do have respect for the ability to just stay true to that desire, to not get caught up in what is “naive” but to follow through on the need and jump ship. Yes, it’s immature in a way, and it can be hurtful to those you leave, but perhaps it’s an important part of growing up, to seek a solitary adventure, to get to know yourself, to take seriously your own existence and to explore the world a little bit. The whole notion of “going forth to seek one’s fortune” has been forgotten – we now “go forth” to secure a job in the private sector, or to be evaluated by a committee or placed in a cubicle by the friend of a friend, and it involves far less adventure and improvisation than it once would have. And the world in general involves far less nature. So all in all I relate to the urge. Of course, being female, it would be hypocritical to imagine things were better at a previous time, and even now, I’m always warned that traveling alone is courting danger (even when my sister & I hitchhiked together we were constantly told that our gender made the activity even more worrisome than it already was in this day & age)

This article is a more detailed look at the life of the actual chris mccandless, on whom the movie is based; it’s interesting after having seen the movie to compare the parts that were played up by Sean Penn and the parts that didn’t get as much attention. Jon Krakauer, who wrote the piece above, notes that had Chris had a proper map of the area, he’d have known about a way to cross the river just a quarter mile downstream, and also a National Parks cabin only six miles away with food & first aid – but he also notes that if he’d known these things, he may well have felt that staying at the “magic bus” was too near civilization to begin with. The whole point was to escape society, so to turn to society’s help might have seemed to cheapen his entire experience (although, of course, he continually relies on the constructions of society, so long as they’re indirect enough for him – guns, but not hunters; bags of rice but not corner stores – the details are blurry…)

One Response to “into the wild”

  1. Dennis Osborne Says:

    I wish you wouldn’t hitchhike. The odds for a bad adventure are too high and you’d never be the same person again if that occurred. There are plenty of other ways to get adventure. Go Eurorail for example. Or take the train in China. They’ve got one, now, that’s pressurized and will take you all the way to Tibet. The rail in China is cheap, too. You could still travel, independently, and talk to lots of people but you’d be far safer.

    When I was at Denali Park, I bought a paper that included some of the journal from a stranded young man in a bus I assume must have been Chris McCandless, you wrote of. My impression at the time was that he was suicidal. But I never got around to reading his entire journal as I’d intended. As I recall, he was writing of dying right from the time his bus broke down and that seemed odd to me. I could see losing hope, eventually, but not that soon. He even wrote of killing a deer and feeling guilty because he couldn’t eat it all and was leaving it to waste, which now I don’t understand. Wasn’t it winter when he was stranded? So shouldn’t the deer meat have frozen and been good for the winter? And if it wasn’t winter, why didn’t he start walking? I believe he was in Denali Park. It’s not so huge one wouldn’t expect to run into someone eventually. In fact there is no place in Alaska with roads, you wouldn’t expect to. They don’t have many roads, there, and where they are, people are around.

    Well, perhaps you’ve inspired me to buy the book.

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