Into The Wild

I watched the movie into the Wild last night and I'm still thinking about it today. Basically it's a dramatised take on the life of Chris McCandless; a young man from a well to do family that turned his back on society in pursuit of a deeper understanding of existence. After two years of wandering he ends up in the Alaskan wilderness where he dies at the young age of 24. Sean Penn (director) did a superb job in rendering this remarkable true story to the big screen. A deft hand was required to provide perspective as to why Chris abandoned his family and friends for a life which offered uncertainty every day.

Before he departs Chis gives away $24,000 to Oxfam and latter burns all the money in his wallet. Survival becomes a day to day concern, Chris takes occasional jobs not for stability but to fund adventure. His dream or perhaps mission is a better term; is too go into the wild interior of Alaska solo and live of the land. It cost him he's life but he was in some respects unlucky. Why did he go, that's hard to answer, there were family issues early in life which scarred him, so in some respects it appears he was escaping the emotional baggage of family and certainly breaking free from his father. He was also inspired by the writings of Tolstoy and London and Thoreau and the declaration of a simple authentic life immersed in nature.

What is truly mystifying are the photos that were found in Chris's camera documenting the last moth of his life. The final photo taken perhaps within a day of his death shows an emaciated husk of a body holding a piece of paper with his last message:

I have had a happy life and thank the lord. Goodbye and god bless all!

At this point he is about to die, he knows this and yet the impression that one takes away from this image is that Chris was at peace with his life and impending death. I should point out that it appears that he was not suicidal and indeed only intended to stay in the wilderness a few months. Alas his naivety and under preparedness led to his demise, but the character that he showed in these circumstances is what has impressed me.

To choose not only isolation but also to pit yourself against a savage environment takes extraordinary courage. Some people think he was an under prepared fool others are are inspired by his actions. It supposedly created quite a stir in the US at the time. For me I was reminded of my eldest brothers school friend. He was always an outgoing individual, after leaving school he took a job in retail and quickly progressed his career and then he gave it all away. i can remember my father being perplexed at this action. He became a traveller, he would head off on his motorbike and travel around Australia, working labour jobs on outback stations, to make money to travel some more. Two years would go by and he would rock up to my parents farm with only the clothes on his back and work for three months and then disappear again. We would here the occasional story from his mother as to his where abouts. My brothers friend fascinated me, he was a gentle soul but he had a spark in his eye, he had tasted adventure, he was intoxicated with the world and he wanted to soak it all up. Years past and I found that I would on occasion wonder where he was, what he was doing. Then a few years back my mother called to say that he had died in a crevasse in New Zealand, high on a Mountain and alone. He was on the final leg of a two year adventure around the world. I was devastated, I hoped that his death had been quick, but it was hard to know, they estimate he had been in the crevasse for two weeks before he was found. Underneath my sadness was a sense of awe, he may have died but he had seen so much, he's life was lived fully awake, each moment savoured. More than I can say for the majority of people.
I admire people who are brave enough to venture out into the unknown and survive on their instincts. I have harbored similar desires particularly in my early twenties. At one point I was close to doing so myself, I longed to go into the outback and roam the interior as my brothers friend had done so. I took a redundancy offer in the early 90's a result of Jeff Kennett's council amalgamations and was preparing to go. Before I departed I went on a holiday to Java were I meet my future partner and my life took a different trajectory. Part of me still desires to experience the expansive wilderness of the outback in solitude and I certainly can appreciate why people are attracted to the wild. After all, this is where we are all derived from. The majority of humanity's history has been that of the hunter and gatherer. In our troubled world, the world of global warming, global conflicts, of unbridled consumerism and rampant development, the world of the haves and the have-nots, I think we have become more isolated and fragmented as individuals than at any time in humanity's existence. The desire to go back to the wilderness is one to find the answer to why it all has gone so wrong and perhaps to gain an insight into a life attuned to the rhythms of nature even if it is only a Utopian concept.

I recall reading an article about Jack Kerouac and his book the Dharma Bums. Whilst Jack espoused the life of solitude and the benefits of retreating into the wilderness, in reality he's attempt to do so in real life was a failure. In the summer he took on the role of a fire spotter at a remote wilderness lookout tower. He didn't see the job through; the solitude was to intense!

The call of the wild is alluring; but it's not for everyone.

A good movie; it makes you think. Check it out


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