Into the Wild – The Freedom of Solitude

What if someone examined their own day-to-day life? Most of us would admit to leading a lifestyle that is systemized and orderly, doing the same thing you do every day. People get so accustomed to this style of life and satisfaction, that they never find the true meaning behind life. In Jon Krakauer’s, Into the Wild, Chris McCandless explains that, “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.”

After reading Into the Wild many of us might change our routine lives based on deadlines, schedules, and security, and lead a more adventurous and exciting life. One idea in Krakauer’s novel is “to encounter new experiences for happiness, because there is no other joy than having an endlessly changing horizon.” To engage in these new experiences, what do you think someone would do to change the way they live? Chris McCandless’ way of changing his own lifestyle was to be nomadic, hitchhiking his way around the country, escaping a society he disliked, and finding a true home and identity in the Alaskan wild.

Christopher Johnson McCandless is a young man from a well-to-do family and a graduate from Emory University in Atlanta. He is a man of great morality and integrity, “if he started a job, he’d finish it. It was almost like a moral thing for him. He was what you’d call extremely ethical. He set pretty high standards for himself.” One of those standards, or a goal following his college education was to invent a new life and search for his true identity. Chris’ adventure is based on a true story by Jon Krakauer, and starts when he ceased communicating with his family in 1990. He abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings to charity, and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness.

Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life. He spent time in Carthage, South Dakota with a man named Wayne Westerberg, and in Slab City, California with Jan Burres and her boyfriend Bob. These characters and relationships were valued by McCandless, but they never had the power to lure him away from his wandering. During his voyage, Chris adopts a new name and motto: Alexander Supertramp, “an extremist and aesthetic voyager whose home is the road.” During September 1991, Chris finds himself in Bullhead City working for a local McDonald’s. He opens a savings account and mentions in letters to his friends that he might finally settle down. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his goal, he kept on going from city to city, leading his nomadic lifestyle. From there he ends up getting supplies for his trip to Alaska, and on April 28, 1992 Chris “Supertramp” McCandless beings walking the Stampede Trail into the wild.

After entering the Denali National Park and absorbing the pristine beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Chris stumbles across an old abandoned bus with a cot and stove. In no time, he makes this rustic bus a new home, and began his attempt to live off the land. With him was a ten pound bag of rice, a rifle, a book of local plant life, several other books, and some camping equipment. Aside from leading his new life of openness and solitude, Chris spent his day collecting berries, and hunting squirrels, rabbit, and moose. With hunger on mind, he still found time to read from his favorite and most influential authors: Jack London, Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau. Within the works of these men is where Chris McCandless eventually finds his true character. He says, “I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… to put to rout all that was not life: and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  (Henry David Thoreau). This greatly demonstrates Chris’ reason of going to Alaska to find himself. He was a self-philosopher and found out that happiness is what he wanted. Chris said, “I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done for them.”

He was motivated by the idea that happiness is only real when shared, and decides to return home because he has no one to share it with in the wild. Formerly discontent with society and its surroundings, Chris later believes that, “the joy of life is all around us, people just need to change the way they look at things.” With Chris revitalizing his life and thoughts, he decides to return home to the people he could spend this elation with. His journal reads, “I am reborn. This is my dawn. Real life has jus begun.” He lived his new experience in the wild finding out that happiness can only be achieved through others. During his return however, his path home proves to be more difficult than anticipated.

After Krakauer published his work in 1996, the book was adapted into a 2007 film directed by Sean Penn, also titled Into the Wild. In the book based movie, Christopher Johnson McCandless was acted exquisitely by Emile Hirsch. Both the book and film are broken down into chapters and weeks living in the wild, alternating throughout the story. Both present McCandless’ ascetic personality in a great way; however Krakauer’s and Penn’s approaches are slightly different. In the novel, Krakauer is used as the narrator and tells about his own experiences relating to McCandless’. In the film, the narration is shown by McCandless’ own journal writings through Emile Hirsch. The narration is also shared by his younger sister, Carine McCandless, played by Jena Malone. The narration by an actual family member, although acted, puts much more meaning into the love and sympathy the McCandless family shares with each other. Also, the book, in comparison to the film, has a much more documentary feel being solely based on interviews and journal passages. This lets the reader really grasp Chris’ emotion during the book; however it is performed thoroughly by Emile Hirsch. Hirsch’s physical makeup even makes the movie more authentic by showing almost exact features of Chris McCandless. Another comparison would be the alteration of scenes in the movie, not described in the book. Altogether the film is very accurately based on Krakauer’s novel, and all of the characters were acted out to mere precision, giving the viewers a true understanding of Chris McCandless’ adventure. Throughout the movie, music was added in the smooth transitioning between scenes that added great effect to the message trying to be said. Sean Penn asked Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, to create a soundtrack to be used for the film. All of his songs emphasize the importance of the scenes. Chris McCandless wanted to vanish from society, and Vedder explains a lesson to be learned in the lyrics of his music. His music in the film can be described as influential, inspiring, and spiritual. Overall, the book and film Into the Wild was very entertaining and taught many life lessons and values.

Into the Wild, both the novel and film, would undoubtedly receive a five star for showing great inspiration and a variety of themes. Jon Krakauer and Sean Penn presented the story of Chris McCandless wonderfully to readers and viewers. Many may not agree with Chris’ decision to live in the wild, but his story definitely makes an impact with multiple themes. Chris was searching for his identity, wanted to live a new life, and have new experiences. He burned his money thinking that it makes people cautious. He left society thinking that it only poisons people and their true character. He left thinking that he needs a new life and identity. Then, after living a life of freedom in the wild, he eventually finds out what he truly wants in life: happiness. Chris McCandless was to some a “psycho,” but hopefully to many he was an example of someone who just lives. His own philosophy and theme was that, “if you want something in life, just reach out and grab it.” To Christopher Johnson McCandless anything was possible, he lived in new experiences and found that happiness is only present when shared.

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About Zak Suhar

Student at Mount Union. Outdoor enthusiast. Perspective and jumping photographer. Entrepreneurial mind-setter. Green Bay Packer & Wisconsin sports fan.
This entry was posted in Adventure, Books, Film, Outdoors, Philosophy, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Into the Wild – The Freedom of Solitude

  1. Trish says:

    I agree and enjoyed the story

  2. Chris McCandless may have had a short life, but he certainly had a fulfilled one: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/into-the-wild/

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