Walking back to happiness?

Submitted by AWL on 22 November, 2007 - 10:31 Author: Cathy Nugent

Into The wild reviewed.

I like to think I’m a pretty low-tech, non-materialistic kind of person. Apart from a few books, I’ve not accumulated much stuff over the years. My analogue radio is permanently tuned to the one BBC station that in spite of podcasts etc. hasn’t changed its format much in 30 years.

My mobile phone is the cheapest, is five or six years old and has a huge crack in it’s casing from when I dropped it in the gutter four years ago. I do not own an MP3 player.

If it’s cheap, it’s stood the test of time and it’s not broke, why fix it? Who needs more shiney tat? This is my basic attitude.

But I have never, ever, imagined or desired, even when younger and fitter, dropping out of human society, walking off into the wilderness, sleeping out in the desert or living off the land. Why would anyone want to do that? Into the Wild, a true-story film of a north American best-selling book, helps us understand the drive.

Chris Candless was not a crazy man, or a loner who haboured bad feelings towards all human beings. He was a young, athletic, charming, straight-A student from a privileged background. But he was, as his sister’s narration tells us, a fragile, brittle person who had been deeply hurt and betrayed by his parents’ behaviour; their substantial lies, everyday hypocrisy and uninhibited violence towards each other.

Rejecting his parents’ values, their worldly ambition and materialism, Chris first plans, then sets out on a “big adventure”. He tramps the roads with just a tent, sleeping bag, water bottle, a few favourite books, a gun to shoot animals for food and a survivalist guide to roots and berries.

Chris wants a simpler existence. It might be a journey of self-discovery, except Chris thinks he already knows who he is and what he wants. It is the idealistic chosen existence of other clever young people (or perhaps, often, young men) in history, especially some of the poets and writers Chris admires. Travelling to South Dakota, to Mexico, and then, finally, north to Alaska, Chris meets on the way other “drop outs”, outlaws and wounded individuals.

This is a beautifully-shot film with an interesting, perplexing, sad story to tell. Chris finds out that even when he rejects his old identity (he renames himself Alexander Supertramp) and cuts his ties (somewhat brutally) with the people he meets on the road, he cannot escape complications in life, and perhaps, after all, he does not want to escape from all other human beings.

Sean Penn’s script for the film (and presumably also Jon Krakaur’s original book) has Chris reading Tolstoy at the end of his time in Alaska. Tolstoy talks about how to live a simple life among other human beings. All that matters, in the end, is to make oneself useful to other people and to humanity in general.

But neither Penn nor Krakaur could actually know that Chris was thinking along these lines because Chris died of starvation in Alaska; he was trapped in his wilderness, unable to return south, because he could not swim across a treachourous, fast-flowing river, swollen by ice melted in the spring sunshine. Nature, after all, did not exist in order for enlightened humans to live in harmony with it.

A stupid, crazy way to go? Certainly. But better this way than dropping dead of a heart attack after years spent stalking the mighty dollar on the thirtieth floor of a concrete box.

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