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.