Into the Wild is Sean Penn’s tribute to one of the most powerful tales of modern times.
Into the Wild is Sean Penn’s adaptation of the tale of Christopher McCandless, a young man who rejects the values and goals of a sick, hypocritical society to head off into the raw, unpolluted nature of Alaska where he hopes to find himself.
With all the idealistic certainty of a 23 year old, McCandless leaves behind his college education, gives away his savings and hit the road to discover a life unfettered by the insipid falsehoods that he’d grown up with. He abandons his car, burns his remaining dollars and changes his name to hitchhike around America, working odd jobs and catching the odd freight train.
His ultimate aim was Alaska, though and in true survivalist spirit he heads out into the wild to measure himself against the elements. Armed with a gun to shoot his meat, a book that identifies edible plants and copies of Jack London and Thoreau, his retreat into nature is the ultimate condemnation of a society he neither understands or accepts.
Into the Wild is a beautiful movie. Any traveler will recognize the spirit of freedom that McCandless represents and the adventures and chance encounters on the road he experiences are funny, authentic and moving. Although uncompromising as any angry young man, we see how McCandless touches the lives of those he came into contact with and how, sticking so true to his guns, the others are left wondering if there’s something of that drive and inner certainty missing in their own lives.
In fact, in many ways the film is less the tale of Mccandless’ journey than a testament by others to the radical choices he made. He allows no one to draw too close to him lest he should lose any of his zest for his ‘great Alaskan adventure’ and he tends to leave in the middle of the night rather than stretch out the farewells.
He’s running away, of course, like most long-term travelers but he’s also running to something, the place where he finally has no one left to blame. His insistence that life is not about relationships with others but about finding new experiences falters in the extremes he’s chosen for himself, leaving him to scratch out in his diary at the end:
Happiness only real when shared