Well, I’ve got this nagging urge to write some more about “Into the Wild” — mainly because I’ve been having a hard time reconciling my first impressions with those of everybody who’s raving about what a great film it is.
What I’m thinking now is that people are responding to the myth crafted by Jon Krakauer and Sean Penn, rather than the reality of what happened in the Alaskan wilderness.
In the myth, a brave young soul bent on finding the truth and rejecting middle-class materialism hits the road, has a string of remarkable adventures, meets a bunch of cool people and only accidentally meets a tragic fate. It’s a compelling story, especially when decorated with the jaw-dropping splendor of the American wilderness.
What really happened, though, is that one Christopher McCandless abandoned his family, took on a new identity and wandered the West till an adventure in the Alaskan bush killed him. All that’s really known — beyond the pain inflicted on his family — are the memories of his fellow travelers and the jottings in his journals. The rest is speculation threaded into an interesting narrative.
It’s not a documentary.
Those who side with the dreamers are bound to say embrace the myth of the roving truth-seeker, while those who side with the realists are bound to say ignore the exploits of an arrogant bumbler who got what he deserved.
I’m a realist who wants to embrace the myth. Natural consequence: angst.
But is the movie worth seeing? For the most part, yeah. It’s like art in the sense that it lets viewers fill in the blanks with their own impressions. People sitting side by side can walk out of the theater with opposite conclusions. Go and decide for yourself.
But don’t go expecting any insights into the wilderness. You already know your life here is on loan, and that soon enough your biomatter will return to the earth from whence it came. “Into the Wild” is a fine story, but there’s only so much wisdom to be gleaned when somebody dies trying to live life to the fullest.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, though I expect I will. I’ve always been leery about the “myth” surrounding the book. Personally, I don’t think someone has to die stupidly in order to establish credentials as someone who rejects middle class values. To me, the implication that this fellow is to be admired because died rejecting those values only shows that he wasn’t smart enough to live while still rejecting those values.
Carolyn: you’re speaking to the ambivalence I would expect among people who appreciate the wilderness as something more than a medium through which people learn to understand themselves.
I think the folks in Alaska have their own reasons for thinking McCandless was a fool — they need to believe the sacrifices they endure to live in such an environment reflect well on their own self-sufficiency in the face of nature. You don’t go to Alaska to die; you go there to live. Failure to survive sorta defeats the purpose.
In any case, Krakauer’s nose for a story served him well here — it must be a good story because it’s impossible not to have a visceral reaction to it.
My sentiments exactly, Tom! Have yet to see the movie, but read the book quite some time ago. I dig your blog!
I really want to see this movie since I have been to so many of the same places. I have seen slab city and the vagabonds living in the middle of the desert near Niland. A week ago, I drove through Healy, AK. Last year I was living a block away from a scene of the movie being filmed in El Centro, CA. And finally, I was intrigued by the book and would like to see another interpretation of this story.
For me the hardest thing to assess is the cinematic merits of the movie because I can’t stop dwelling on the story.
I have seventeen different reactions — all conflicting — and want them all to be true.