Into the Wild is a movie that I found in the 2000s, I don’t really recall the years but I think it’s before 2010. Based on the 1996 nonfiction book with the same name, its introduces us to the adventure of Christopher Johnson McCandless AKA Alexander Supertramp, a real-life story.
The movie itself premiered in 2007. In a way, I already forget about this movie existence for quite some time, but this morning when browsing through Netflix, I find this hidden gem emerges. In an instant, I remember why this movie stuck deeply into my heart when I was in my early 20’s. Its idea, plot, reasoning, even the discussion, dialogue, its really a masterpiece. Somehow I find myself reflected in the wildest dream I ever had, I remember when I first watch this movie and how I wondered if I could become like Chris (Emile Hirsch). Would I survive if I go into the wild and just forget everything about the material world and just like the movie said “You’re just there in that moment, in that special place and time” “Just be out there in it, you know? In the wild” These words are stuck in my head. One time Chris rambling on to his friend/boss, Wayne and yelled “Society! Society” Everything that Chris hate is somehow found in this broken society.
Become One With The Wild
The story of Into the Wild revolve solely on the life story of Christopher Johnson McCandless who later in the movie changes his name into Alexander Supertramp. Narrated by Chris himself in the early part, and later in ¾ of the movie is narrated by Chris sister, Carine (Jena Malone). It’s an epic biopic of a man that, like I said above, hates the society, well perhaps not the entire society, but the society he lives in and tries to run away from it all, to a secluded place when he along with nature.
If you aren’t familiar with the movie you might think that Chris is from a poor, broken home family, no future, no skill, not smart and just want to leave it all behind. But no, Chris is from a respectable family, certainly a wealthy family, a graduate from a colleague, smart guy, handsome, and if you look at it now, Chris is the epitome of what a successful man in his early 20’s could become. In one scene Chris watch into the window and see this man in a suit, somehow he found his reflection of what he could have become if he’s not wandered into the path that he chooses. He’s not regretting it, in fact, he glads he choose the path. He will hate himself if he just goes down the “normal people” path. His seemingly normal successful boy story is actually just a glimmer of what really happens in his family. When the story continues to unfold, we found what actually triggers Chris to really embroiled himself in this path of Into the Wild, to be exact, a path into the wild in Alaska.
The Story Unfold
Divided into 5 chapters, Chris story is moving back in forth and beautifully revealing everything along the way. It started with when Chris already in Alaska, then move back the time when he graduated, Chris way of thinking is shown early in the movie with his entrance to the graduation podium, he literally jumping through it, much to the amusement of his parents Walt (William Hurt) & Billie McCandless (Marcia Gay Harden) . Then it moves back to Alaska again, back again into the past, future, past future and finally to his final resting place. For some audience perhaps this is confusing, but near the end, Chris revealed his exact path before finally settled in Alaska.
By the leather engraving in his belt that Chris making, a skill that he learned from his old pal who would become his father figure, Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook), audience able to learned the path take Chris takes. The leather belt engraving showed a glimpse of Chris story when started his journey. Chris started this wholesome journey after he threw his saving of $24k, cutting all of his credit cards and destroying all of his identification. He works his way to earn money to Alaska on his own term. At the start, he rides his Datsun car, which after a while in his car, the car is unfortunately caught in a flash flood. Unable to ride his Datsun again, Chris continuing his journey by foot until he meets the lovely hippie couple, Jan and Rainey, who gave Chris a ride. From there he continues to South Dakota, working as a grain elevator to earn some money from a grain field owned by Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn). From there he continues his journey to the Colorado River, canoeing his way through the grand canyon until he crossed to Mexico. His kayak then lost when he encounter a sandstorm, forced Chris to back to the US. Detained by the border police, he slipped and jump on a freight train back to Los Angeles.
A Hippie, A lover and A Parents
Our wanderer then spends some time in LA, even try to settle down a bit in the homeless shelter. Somehow Chris felt the civilization is still not from him, he started to feel that this is not his way and thinking of going back to the wild as soon as possible. Moving again, Chris found himself at Slab City, and re-encounter the lovely hippie couple, Jan and Raine. There he also meet, Tracy T (Kristen Stewart), a promising country singer. After spending some time there, even able to see the Salvation Mountain, Chris continue his journey and makes camp near Salton City, where he met Ron Franz.
Their relationship started as a friend until they become a father-son figure. Franz tells his life story in the army and his past, losing his wife and kids in an accident while he was serving the army. He told him why he doesn’t choose the whiskey way after the looses, but by mourning his wife and son to the bottle, he felt it just wrong and able to overcome the sadness. Franz owned a leather workshop and Chris start practicing the leather engraving. Again, after a while, Chris is ready to continue his journey to Alaska, leaving Franz who already thought of Chris as his own child. Ron becomes some sort of father figure to Chris, like the father he never has and Chris become some short of son figure to Ron, which he also never have. After driving Chris to the closest stop, Ron even asked Chris if he could adopt him, with Chris politely reject, and you could see the tears start flowing into this old man eyes, just like a parent ready to lose his child. From there, Chris is able to reach Alaska after hitchhike and on foot.
Stumble Into The Wild
The start looks quite good, exactly like how Chris wanted. There is even a time that Chris left his VW combi, thinking of going back to society, perhaps do good to people after reading a book. However, it feels that nature isn’t ready to let Chris go from the wilderness. When he wants to cross the river, the river is heavily flooded due to the rain in upstream. Forcing Chris back to his car/hut and wait until the river crossing is possible again.
After a few months, Chris started to feel the burden of living in the wild by himself. In one scene he finally scores his big game. He shoots a huge moose and prepared to eat the meat. He took his notebook that has a lesson from Kevin from the grain field about what to do when you got your hunted animal. Chris started to skin the moose, try to preserve its meat and fur, before flies buzzing around in the meat and lay the larvae which will become maggot. He fails miserably. Billie talks to himself, imitating his father that continues to berate his mother when they have an argument about Chris lighting the bbq. Clearly, Chris started to become irritated and disoriented due to the lack of animal to hunt, hence lack of food.
He started working his way to try to find edible plants, he bought a book with himself that could show which plants are edible and which is inedible. Due to the lack of food and nutrition, Chris started to make a poor decision, after eating a plant that he thought edible, Chris wakes up feeling unhealthy and sick, perhaps due to the wrong plants he eats. Turns out what he thought as the edible fruit is actually inedible and poisonous plant, with the poison continue to build and severe lack of food, he becomes disoriented and continues to become worse. He miraculously made it to day 100 but in a severe condition. At one time, he even encounters a bear, but again miraculously the bear just skipped him. He writes in his notebook after all the struggle “Trapped in the wild”. His condition continues to change from bad to worse. After all the struggle and hard time finally, Chris accepted his fate, lying at his death bed thinking of all the people that he has met in his journey, his sister, his parents and everything that he has done until the day he dies. He died in peace, in a place that he always dreams about.
More Than Just The Journey. It’s About The People.
Chris journey from my perspective is not about his journey to Alaska, its about the people that he encounter along the away and his family. We need to understand why Chris has this idea that society is broken and he needs to move away from it as far as he can. The reasoning behind everything that he has done to reach the point of no return.
Chris is always a wild child, in one scene Chris is told that when he is 4 years old, he wandered six blocks away from home at 3 o’clock in the morning. And also, his parent happily looking marriage is actually not really a happy story, at least for Chris. Their fraudulent marriage is actually just a mask of the truth. Walt, Chris father, is actually already married when he meets and later married his mother, Billie. Its make Billie his mistress and Chris and Carine a bastard. They made his entire childhood seems like fiction. “A murder of everyday truth” said Carine. Chris and Carine also watch how their parents fight. All of this trauma planted an idea in Chris’s head that he should move away from society and job, cash and all material things is just human perception. The idea is shown much in the movie by Chris dialogue and journal writing. He told something like “My days were more exciting when I was penniless” ”The freedom and simple beauty is just too good to pass up” And also from the action of other and just information from random sources. One scene that I really like and I think I strengthened Chris idea is when he detained at the border patrol, there is a guy in tv telling something like this “Why act now? Why not wait? The answer is clear, the world could wait no longer”. At this point, the audience is thinking that Chris idea is very strong and perhaps nothing could replace it.
However, by Chris interaction with the people that he encounters during his journey, he finally realizes in his death bed that his idea is “wrong”. Unknowing to his own action, Chris action toward other is helping them to recoup their love, settle their difference and just making the world a better place.
Let’s start to talk about the first couple Chris encounter, Jan and Raine. Raine explicitly told Chris that he and Jan have a problem, but they keep that problem to themselves, never really pointing it out. But after they meet Chris, the problem is emerging. Along the way, with Chris easy-going and positive action, thought and his warm heart, the couple start to rekindle their fire.
Moving unto Chris lover, Tracy T, Instead of making love with her, who Chris was hesitating because she is just 16, Chris offered her to do something together, which play music and singing together in front of the crowd. Chris action has a great impact on her without having sex. It’s beautiful and wildly charismatic.
After that, Chris and Ron relationship. Ron who always lonely felt the energy and positiveness in Chris. At first, he doesn’t understand what Chris idea is, asking why a bright young man like Chris sleep in the dirt which Chris replied with a smile “Living like this by choice”.
The last thing I want to talk about Chris relationship is his family. Sean Penn as Director is really brilliant on putting the main cast family feud. The McCandless dialogue with his son in this movie is really small, but they do have a lot of screen time, just not dialogue with Chris. The parent is told at first to be a hard parent, Walt is abusing his wife in front of his children, and just want the society to look at his family as a perfect family. Diving down to the movie, later on, it shows that their parent is not heartless, especially toward their missing child. They do the best they can do to found Chris, a move that Carine told the audience as “Mobilization” by alerting all the police and hiring a private investigator. Their attempt is futile, even the movie show Chris father walk away from home and just broke down crying, eyes staring into the sky, thinking of his son.
Chris action for his family is not direct, instead, by leaving his family and cutting all connection, he is unknowingly helping his parent with pain. The pain of losing a child. Pain seemed to bring their closer. Chris action is somehow giving their parent a reason to love each other again. A way of redemption of their “missing” child. Just like how Chris presence able to make way for Jan & Raine to settle their differences and find their love again.
End of An Idea and The Birth Of New One
Finally, we came unto the conclusion of this movie. Just like the story path I told, you might realize that Chris story is not exactly the usual “Happy Ending”. Instead, it combines a sad and happy ending into something more than just an ending. It’s a thought and a new idea. From Chris idea of seclusion, comes the idea of togetherness. Exactly the opposite from Chris first idea but , everything makes sense to Chris in his final hour. He realizes all the encounter that he has along his journey is making him happy and feel alive, its not the seclusion that makes him happy, its people that he meets along the way. More importantly, he makes others happy, he makes others found their long lost feeling of mutual love. In the end, Chris knew and realized that happiness is only real when shared, He thought about all the people he has met along the way. Before his last breath, Chris even thought, perhaps dreaming of him coming home and smiling and running into their parent’s arms. Chris forgive his parents, just like what Ron has told Chris “When you forgive you love, and when you love Gods light shine on you”