I first heard about the book ‘Into the Wild’ from my Global Issues teacher, when I was taking a Gap Year in a US high school back in 1999. She said I reminded her of the main character- Christopher McCandless.
At the time I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know anything about Christopher McCandless. I wondered why she compared me to him, generally I thought it was a positive thing- she said he was a bright young guy who sucked the marrow out of life- but there was an edge to it that I didn’t quite understand. I respected her though, her class was probably the most eye-opening class I ever took, so the comment stayed with me.
Years later I got the book- an excellent book by Jon Krakauer- and found out the ending. He dies. He’s this intelligent, gifted, athletic, seemingly loved and pampered kid, but one day he gives away his study-fund to Oxfam, leaves his car and burns all his money, and just lights out.
The mystery is- why? Why would this kid do this thing, to himself, to his family?
At first I thought he was heroic. After reading the book, I was awed by the way he lived the short life he had. He really sucked out the marrow, travelling the Western US, leather-tramping the roads, hitch-hiking, meeting wacky characters and forging new connections, always seeking and finding new experiences, enriching his life and his mind.
More recently, I started to think of him, when I thought of him, as a bit of a jerk. As immature and even selfish. Why hurt your parents like that? Why be so irresponsible with your own life like that? For what- spiritual learnings? What is that worth to the family that care about you if you die acquiring them?
That’s how I came to the movie. And for the first hour or so, the movie even reinforces this belief. He is incredibly cavalier with his own life. He blocks his family out completely. He has turned down everything they ever gave him, everything they ever made him, and decided to re-do it all for himself.
The movie answers these questions. They’re answers that speak to my own situation- why I’m in Japan. I’m not angry at my parents like Chris was. I’m out here in Japan, re-inventing myself, doing things for myself, because I didn’t know how to fit in and belong in England.
I’ve written about it on these pages before. It’s nothing really abhorrent. It’s just- not knowing who my people were. Not feeling like I was myself. Not knowing what I wanted, or where my space was to do it. So, I’m here, still searching for those things.
What my Global Issues teacher said about me and Chris being similar is true. Both looking for ourselves, for reality, for a new heritage and control over ourselves and our environment.
His final revelation- as shown in the film anyway- is one I felt myself when setting out on my proposed ‘bike tour around the world!’. It’s the reason I quit, and came back here, hoping to share my life with my then-girlfriend. But not everyone is on the same page at the same time, and that didn’t work out.
Anyway- is this a good movie? It certainly captures the spirit of Chris McCandless. It’s long, but it pays off. It shows us his reasons without over-explaining. Most importantly though- it shows us Chris as reckless carefree vagabond dominating the landscape, dominating people’s hearts, moving through and leaving inspiration and hope in his wake. We see that and while we may tsk at how reckless it is, we love him for it. His spirit is indomitable.
Then we see him brought low, and eventually to death. But even then, he comes through.
I would have loved to have met him. If he’d lived, I think he would have become a wonderful, empathic, understanding, caring man. It’s a tragedy he died.