Quite by chance, I saw the film Into the Wild over the Christmas break (spoiler alert in case you haven’t seen this film and want to, you may not want to read this whole post; that said, I don’t think that knowing the full plot outline detracts from the experience, but don’t say you’ve not been warned!).
I’d heard about it but only had the vaguest idea of the plot line.
I knew it was based on a true story, about a young university graduate who had everything to live for who rejects life and heads off into the wilderness after doing a series of menial – but rewarding – jobs in the American outback. He hitch-hiked his way around the country, gave away all his money and burned his IDs. Ultimately he died deep in the Alaskan outback, alone, from starvation…
A young man leaves his middle class existence in pursuit of freedom from relationships and obligation. Giving up his home, family, all possessions but the few he carried on his back and donating all his savings to charity Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) embarks on a journey throughout America. His eventual aim is to travel into Alaska, into the wild, to spend time with nature, with ‘real’ existence, away from the trappings of the modern world.
In the 20 months leading up to his Great Alaskan Adventure his travels lead him on a path of self-discovery, to examine and appreciate the world around him and to reflect on and heal from his troubled childhood and parents’ sordid and abusive relationship. When he reaches Alaska he finds he has been insufficiently prepared for the hardships to come. Despite making it through the winter his plan is ill-judged and prepares to return home in spring, only to find the stream he crossed in the snow has become an impassable raging torrent and that he is trapped. With no means of sustaining himself adequately he eventually starves to death in his so sought after isolation.
Throughout his epic journey the people he meets both influence and are influenced by the person he is and bring him to the eventual and tragic realisation that “Happiness is only real when shared”. Source: IMDB
The movie is 2.5 hours long and very powerful. It is not a feel good film and it is harrowing in places, especially towards the end. That said, it conveys strong messages which I consider profound and long-lasting.
I related to the main character in a number of ways. He wanted his own ‘year zero’, to start from scratch, to escape his past and find himself. That’s been high on my own agenda for a long time now.
I have said, many times, that if the opportunity came along – I would leave the UK at the drop of a hat and head out on a one way ticket to the other side of the world. This doesn’t go down well with friends here. They take that as a form of rejection, as aloofness, arrogance, coldness, cruelty and contempt. But it’s not any of those things. It’s about wanting to find oneself. About wanting to ‘live life’ away from the humdrum, the rat race, the ‘known’, the safe, the boring, the unchanging. But the ‘sensible’ bit of me won’t do it without a job to go to (hence my angling for a transfer to one of our overseas offices with my current company; let’s see what 2009 brings).
The closest current parallel for me is having left the UK on a one-way ticket for Japan in 1998, as a 22 year old. That said, I did have a job lined up (I’d been hired here). But I left knowing nobody. And I had the year of my life. So many new experiences, new people, new challenges. A year of huge highs and deep lows. But it was very much a case of ‘living life’. I’d write letters home and I always had a huge amount to say as it was all so new, so many experiences, so much to talk about.
Chris Mccandless – who the movie was based on – did the same thing, but he very much ratcheted it up to the next level, rejecting middle class life and the shackles which accompany it. For me, I could still see parallels as a lot of my thought processes for leaving were not entirely dissimilar. My own childhood was dysfunctional and was devoid of real roots, in turn leaving me with no real desire to settle, stay put or to lead a ‘conventional’ life – instead – an inescapable desire to keep moving and to keep experiencing.
With regard to the messages, there were two that really stood out.
When you forgive, you love…
This was the first and was the message given by the grandfather figure who tried to get Chris to forgive [his parents]. Chris’ parents were deeply flawed. His father had been a philanderer, he had already been married and thus it had transpired that Chris and his sister were bastard children. Chris carried a huge amount of animosity and this, probably more than anything else, is what drove him away from his parents (and society itself).
Speaking of myself, one of the traits I like least is my ability to bear long grudges. Forgiveness is such a powerful concept and is tied with truth and honesty and plain speaking. Something else I need to do more of, especially in light of certain current circumstances.
Happiness is not real unless shared…
This was the second powerful message and one that I am thankfully not at odds with. In the end, Chris paid the ultimate sacrifice to arrive at this conclusion and this was heart-wrenchingly tragic.
I highly recommend watching this film. For me, it offered perspectives on my own life that still need exploring.
Into the wild, the false being within (Farnorthscience.com)
Death of an innocent (away.com)
Photos of Chris compiled on flickr (flickr.com)
A self-portrait, undeveloped in his camera.