Thursday, October 8, 2009

Into the Wild

If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, the possibility of life is destroyed.

These were the words of a young man who believed that there needn’t be a reason for you to do something that you love. If you have the drive, then nothing can stop you. And you go all the way realizing this dream without looking back. Based on Jon Krakauer’s book by the same name, Into the Wild is a 2007 American film directed by Sean Penn. It tells us the true story of a young man, Christopher Johnson Mc Candless and his adventures with life.

Into the Wild recounts the life of Christopher Mc. Candless (played by Emile Hirsch), a real-life student athlete at Emory Univeristy. Brought up in a well to-do family, in 1992, Mc.Candless hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness. He had given all his savings to charity, burnt all the money in his pocket and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his body was found by a hunter. The whole story is narrated by his sister.

Mc. Candless’ life was that of a regular young person, who graduated from college, lived with his parents and sister and did all the regular things that a man of his age would do. When he graduates, he thinks of carrying on with his studies and plans to apply universities. His parents offer him a new car. But Chris’ reaction is unusual. He gets upset and asks them why would he need a new car? He doesn’t want these things. It’s these things that he doesn’t believe in. This scene is the first time we see Mc. Candless’ real character develop. He rejects all forms of material and conventional life and believing that his parents had betrayed him because of their constant fights, he leaves everything and everybody behind and sets out on a cross-country drive to reach his ultimate goal – Alaska, without telling his family where he is going or what he is doing. This leaves them to become increasingly anxious and eventually desperate to find the whereabouts of their son.

He abandons his old car after it is caught in a flash flood. He then hitchhikes his way into the wild after burning what remained of his dwindling cash supply. For sometimes, he works on farms but leaves that too, paddling his way to Mexico on a kayak. Followed by the police, he leaves the kayak and then travels by freight.

During his travels, he encounters many unconventional people who were intrinsically good in nature and welcomes him into their families and homes. Although Mc Candless had an opportunity to settle down with each meeting, he chooses to move on with his quest for a meaning to life, with the conviction that only the wild of Alaska will give him true knowledge. He simply refuses to contact his family.

Chris by now has a new name “Alexander Supertramp” and lives in the “Magic Bus”, which was an isolated bus he found. Although initially exhilarated by the isolation, the beauty of nature and the thrill of living off the land, life gets harder. He writes in his dairy, hunts and gathers and reads books. He slowly realizes how nature can be harsh and uncaring. He realizes that happiness is real only when shared. As his supplies run out, he is forced to eat roots and plants. Unable to distinguish an edible plant from inedible, he gets poisoned eating the wrong plant. He slowly and painfully starves to death, as he continues to document his process of self-realization and demise. Two weeks later, he dies.

The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences. This is the line that drove Mc. Candless to the wild. A will to explore, a will to experience a new life, a real life away from the material world. I saw how this conviction that Mc. Candless carried with him remains dormant in me and many others and how we too at some point of living in this material world would like to seek and truly explore.

Watching this film, I experienced a sense of Catharsis. Although I may not have the courage to do what he did and go to the extent of his daring travels, I did feel some happiness in seeing how he went out and completely renounced his worldly life to seek something higher and supreme. The quest for true experience and knowledge is inspiring. An undying spirit that kept him going simply amazed me. His thrill and sheer fascination of nature almost unnerves you.

The soundtrack by Eddie Vedder builds the theme and meaning of the film brilliantly.
Have no fear, for when I’m alone
I’ll be better off, than I was before

In solitude we find our inner selves. The time we spend on our own is when we contemplate our personalities, our deepest desires and our fears. We confront ourselves. Mc Candless does this to find himself and gets happiness out of following his free will. Eventually however, we see how he realizes nature is harsh too. It made me think how in the end our lives are entwined in a cycle of desires. There are two sides to every coin. While the grass may look greener on the other side, the other side may not after all turn out to be that green. However, one must strive to strike a balance. A balance between what you feel is you, following your heart’s desires, and also keeping in mind the people who love you, not hurting them or causing them pain because of your actions. It’s a tough equation but it’s not impossible.

Sean Penn directed the movie with great detail, bringing out subtle instances of tremendous emotional impact. Mc Candless’ character brings out sensitive issues of society, politicians and hypocrites who rule this world and make young people bitter to everything around them.

What if I were smiling and running into your arms, would you see then what I see now? - His question to his loved ones. Watch it for its sheer ability to move you and leave you wondering about the real meaning of life.


  1. Well written Zulfiya. I share the same thoughts on this movie - I had seen this in our final year of college, when us Econ boys were living the 'i-give-a-toss' life, ready to give up world and its people for our individualistic lifestyle. This was a complete eye opener and made us realize that we seek and gain solitude only because we had people who loved & cared for us. I think its a must watch for all college going students, though sitting through 3 hrs of life history might be boring for many. Eddie Vedder's soundtrack was mystical and can incarnate into a multitude of meanings. I still have it as a favourite on my music player!

    Good job. Keep reviewing more such commercial sensemaking movies :)

  2. Thanks so much Ajith!:)

    "This was a complete eye opener and made us realize that we seek and gain solitude only because we had people who loved & cared for us." - Very well said! I think this line in a shell tells us what this movie teaches us. It is those who care for us that we miss in our quest for solitude, but it is in solitude that we realize the true value of shared happiness. The soundtrack simply leaves you spellbound. The meaning is deep and beautifully conveys the protagonist's feelings.

  3. i wonder where you come across such amazing movies.. though i feel what he did was extreme.. and i wonder why he did it.. did his parents really fight soo much with each other ? Im sure all our parents have conflicts once in a while.. i guess he was very sensitive.. and why did he have to die???.. tats kind of like an anti climax.. but then again, its not jus a movie right.. its real life and life doesnt care abt climax or anticlimax..:D

    I feel ike there were probably a lot of other things, or ideas or people who might have influenced his thinking.. which is not covered here.. somehow something seems to be missing.. hard to beleive just parents fights could drive him to seek meaning in solitude.. or maybe i jus havent go the whole point yet.. hehe

  4. Good work...the movie missed out lots of events from the novel, but still it was superb! Awesome direction and the music was too good. 'Happiness is real when shared' were like an eyeopener, so very true, one could not have realised so if not in a situation like alexander.

  5. excellent piece of work!
    life's toughest part is to express what you feel and it is a gift for those people who can express themselves through writing and acting.
    You are an artist!
    its fantastic!!!
    i urge u to write more and hope u keep up the good work

  6. This was indeed one of those profound movies that deeply moved me. Everything from acting, directing, cinematography was top-notch.

    Another quote from McCandless:
    "I'm going to paraphrase Thoreau here... rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness... give me truth."

    A definite must-watch for all.

  7. @ Olive: Interesting point you have raised. Was Chris' actions too extreme? Don't all our parents have conflicts? But how many of us react to it and try to understand why relationships can get complicated? The point here is that it wasn't just his parents' conflict that made Chris bitter, but it was their materialistic life that he strongly resented. To quote his sister, .."the Careerism and money seemed to only embolden their blindness." Both his parents were very successful people but what they lacked was a true love for life in its spiritual sense. Chris identified this gap that gnawed him inside, because in principle, he was a very morally and spiritually conscious human being.

    He was a very well read young man. To quote his sister again, she says "Chris measured himself and those around him by a fiercely rigorous moral code. He risked what could have been a relentlessly lonely path, but found company in the characters of the books he loved. From writers like Tolstoy, Jack London and Thoreau, he could summon their words to suit any occasion and he often would." Hence we can see all the factors that have affected and influenced Chris' thinking and his subsequent actions.

    Hope this helps in understanding Chris' character better and seeing why he did what he did..:)

  8. @ Abhishek: The truth about happiness being real only when shared is a beautiful realization, and like you said one would not have realized it until one is in a situation similar to Chris. It is only when we are in solitude and on our own to face life's challenges that we see how others matter to us and how only when we share what we have, we feel true joy and a sense of satisfaction in life.

  9. @ Bhu: Thanks so much bhu, really its only with support from people like you that I find the drive to express what I feel. And in this forum where I combine my love for movies and my personal take on it and how it has affected my life, it is simply a reward to see your posts...:)

  10. @ Nabil : Truth. That is what we all seek. What is truth? Where do we find it? Above and over everything else, it is truth that gives us answers. McCandless' quotes are some of the best I have ever come across. Honest, direct and thought provoking.

  11. Hey, Zul..
    Seems like you are too much into this movie!
    In fact, completely dipped in it..

    Appreciate your hard work. Simply and effectively put.

    I wanna be a bagpacker, go hitchhiking.. travel the world, wander, explore.. just like McCandless..
    Yea, bt surely don't wanna die like him!

    Wt's coming next, Ms. upcoming Nikhat Kazmi? ;) :P

  12. Thanks so much RIcha! Appreciate your thoughts.

    Yes that's a dream we all want to fulfil isn't it? If only we all followed the free spirit in us, life would turn out to be so much more purposeful and satisfying.

    Death is something we are afraid of. Why? Mc Candless' death seems to irk most of us out as we don't want to look at death positively. He may have died with the most contented heart than any other person who hasn't lived like him. Emily Rose flirted with death. It's a kind of liberation that may not be felt by someone who is afraid of it. Or rather might, since we don't know what it's like to be on the other side.

    Live life to the fullest. Fulfill all your desires. Embrace life to such an extent that you love moments that soak you so much that you don't see pain where everyone else does.

  13. An intriguing movie from the looks of it.I haven't seen it yet and I am just commenting on whatever I have read over here.
    My thoughts are especially on this above comment.
    Indeed life would be more purposeful if we followed the free spirit in us.
    And my opinion on death is we aren't necessarily afraid of death,it is more about the love to live life.To live as long as possible and to fulfill all unaccomplished dreams.If given an option I would want to live as long as possible only reason being there's so much more to explore in this world!
    Because of this reason alone I wouldn't want to look at death positively.

  14. "Society, you are a crazy breed, I hope you are not lonely without me..."... I just loooooove this movie! And loved reading your review!! Great work!

  15. @ Varun : Fear of one comes out of the love of the opposite. But like you said as there is so much to live for, we'd rather not die early. Since happiness is measured in height and not always length, what we experience in a short time might be greater than our entire lives. We simply need to live every moment to the fullest.

    @ Swati: Thanks so much Swati! I love this movie too:)

  16. "Society, have mercy on me
    I hope you're not happy if i disagree"

    I guess these lines speak a lot about the way we live..the way we fear listening to our hearts desires and 'not' doing what we wish we cud..We fear being ridiculed, being mocked at..This is the reality that irks me and more so because i am a part of that reality..when i see people who listen to their heart, i so wish i cud be like them..also i start to wonder if i cud ever be one of them..people fear solitude..i wish i cud make time for some..
    this is the sole reason i fell in love with this movie..there are times when i wish i cud do things i really really WANT to, bt i cant..i wonder why..and i see that is how life around me is..and i am so prone to it that even if i can change it, i dont WANT to..its a cruel, selfish, materialistic world where we just compete against each other to survive..

    It applies to the smallest stupidest [if thats a word] thing like sucking up to a faculty in college for reasons u knw why..
    Sumtimes i wish i could care less, but sumhow i am not able to..

    Mccandless for me is an inspiration that i havent been able to make much use of..

    However, that apart. very well written piece..looking forward to more of such reviews..

    P.S: though they are not eddie vedder's original tracks, the soundtrack is the best ever.. :P

    - Nikhil, AV 2011

  17. Nikhil, thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings about how this movie has inspired you. The movie has undeniably served its purpose with the way it has moved people. It has made us think, even though we may not have actioned those thoughts yet.

    I am sure someday you will realize all your wishes. This is a start, so never give up!

    Who composed the original tracks then?

  18. Hard sun is a cover, originally by sum1 called gordon peterson, aka Indio, and society is written by a guy called Jerry Hannan..

    these 2 are my favs from the album..the rest i guess is by eddie himself..sry for wrongly mentioning the whole album..


  19. Thanks for the information Nikhil! Much appreciated!:)