Very few films touch a deep chord within us… Into the Wild is one such film. I watched it last weekend and it has been on my mind since. The film has affected me profoundly and I need to share my thoughts…
Into the Wild tells the real life story of a bright young man Chris McCandless from a well-heeled family in Virginia. The film, adapted from Jon Krakauer’s book by the same name and brilliantly directed by Sean Penn, is narrated by Chris’s younger sister Carine aided by notes from his journal.
After graduating from Emory University in 1990 with good grades, Chris severs ties, in one swift move, with the life he has known until then. He donates his savings, destroys all traces of his existence, rechristens himself Alexander Supertramp, and goes hitchhiking across North America.
Inspired by the wilderness tales of Jack London, and the reflections of Henry David Thoreau on living simply in natural surroundings, Chris sets off to find ultimate freedom as a child of Earth. With a firm belief that money and power are an illusion, his eventual aim is to travel to the wilds of Alaska, far from the trappings of modern civilization, where he can kill ‘the false being within’ and become ‘lost in the wild.’
Chris finally makes his way to the rough Alaskan bush in April 1992 and sets up camp in an abandoned bus which he calls ‘The Magic Bus.’
He lives simply. He hunts and forages for food, reads books, maintains a journal of all that he sees and thinks and feels and does. He finds joy in the isolation and beauty of his surroundings, each new experience assuaging his spirit beyond words. At long last, it seems, Chris’s quest for peace and happiness is complete.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Chris and his sister Carine have had a troubled childhood marked by their parents’ sordid and abusive relationship. His father’s volcanic, hair-trigger rage frequently erupted into vitriolic verbal outbursts and physical assaults on their mother; Chris too being the recipient of his dad’s derision and disparaging remarks. His parents’ unhappy marriage and the hypocritical life they epitomize, their deceit and lies, their unhappiness and discord with each other leave Chris heartbroken.
Things come to a head when Chris visits distant relatives in California and learns that his father has a son from a previous marriage and that he had still been married to his first wife when he and his sis were born. His father’s infidelity and the inference that both he and his sis are ‘bastard children’ affects him deeply. He feels his family is founded on a web of lies… Soulfully, he paraphrases his idol Henry Thoreau, “Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.”
My heart weeps for young Chris when he says, “Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past.” And this is what he does… he removes himself from the toxic situation at home and disappears into the wilderness… never to return.
Isn’t home that one place on earth where we are (or rather, should be) the happiest? Where one is the most loved, the most cared for, the most comfortable, the most secure?
The shelter that remains constant in life and free from all negativity? The space where we feel the best about ourselves? The umbrella under which children thrive and grow into happy, balanced and confident adults?
Isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to create such a haven for their children? To invest time and energy into their marriage, interact with mutual affection, appreciation and admiration, and resolve their conflicts prudently so that their children see their togetherness and grow up to raise happy families of their own?
The volatile relationship of Chris’s parents could hardly have created a loving and caring atmosphere for the McCandless children. Throughout the film, we see snippets of his dad ridiculing Chris over small things, discouraging him from trying new things, and criticizing him for the smallest mistakes. And we can only imagine its harsh impact on Chris’s self-image and self-esteem.
Any wonder that once Chris graduates, he escapes the harm within his home and sets out to seek happiness in the empty spaces of Alaska? He sees himself not as homeless, but as a man freed from home.
Chris spends almost four months ~ 113 days to be exact ~ in his ‘magic bus.’ Soon after his arrival, spring arrives. However, finding game or edible roots and berries becomes increasingly difficult… Chris grows leaner and weaker day by day…
He realizes that nature can be harsh and uncaring too, and after a couple of months, tries to go back to civilization only to find his route blocked by the swollen, raging river…
Back in the bus, Chris resigns to his fate… As his strength ebbs, he records: Happiness is only real when shared… a realization which runs contrary to his earlier conviction that joy of life does not necessarily come from human relationships. Finally he realizes that life has meaning only when we can share it with someone… something he finds out far too late.
As death looms near, Chris finally acknowledges his true identity ‘Christopher Jonathan McCandless’ in his farewell note. Lying in the bus such that he can look up at the open sky, he sees himself home again, happy and smiling, running up to his parents and embracing them.
At long last, he ceases to hate them, forgives them, and in doing so, finds peace… and as he breathes his last, the sun breaks through the clouds and shines on him.
Long after seeing this spell-binding film, I am filled with deep regret. Grief at the futility of it all. Anguish for all that could have been.
As a mother, my heart bleeds for young Chris aching for truth and love and understanding. If only he could have had a home which was truly ‘sweet.’