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Movie Review: Into the Wild

Movie Review and Commentary:

Into the Wild

Synopsis (with ending spoiler):

Into the Wild is a movie adapted from the book of the same title, by John Krakauer, and it is a true story. The main character is Chris McCandless, an American college graduate who is determined to live a life of adventure. Immediately after graduating college, Chris gives his life's savings to charity and sets out for the Western U.S. He soon abandons his car, burns what little pocket money he brought with him, and sets out on foot. The movie depicts the adventures Chris experienced in two years on the road with no vehicle, no identification, and virtually no money. The film is not completely chronolgical, however, and cuts back and forth between these adventures on the road, and those he experienced during final phase of his journey; his time spent living in a bus in the Alaskan wilderness. The film includes a voice-over by the main character, as well as that of his confused and hurt younger sister, and also includes a few grainy flashbacks into Chris's and his family member's lives. Though he has fulfilling encounters with a variety of drifters and lost souls, his two-year adventure ends in tradgedy, as he starves to death in the Alaskan wilderness. The movie ends with his death.

Major Themes:

Hitting the Road: This book/movie would seem to be the latest in a long line of stories about otherwise mainstream folks who decide to abandon everything and hit the open road. Bearing in mind it actually happened in 1990-1992, the story is Generation X's answer to On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. It is however, darker, more tragic, and infused with a peculiar kind of pathos wrought by a material culture that has hardened a great deal since Kerouac's time, and even in the 15 years since this story happened. Still, it has that basic appeal to everyone who ever dreamed of throwing everything away and going on a monster road trip, a group that would probably include somewhere between 99% and 100% of everyone who ever lived.

Dissatisfaction with Modern Life: Part of what drives Chris to make his journey is a general dissatisfaction with material culture, and a reluctance to bear the torch passed to him by his parents and his socio-economic status. He graduates from a top university, has the option to attend Harvard Law school, and has parents who offer to buy him a new car upon graduation. It appears that he has every incentive to follow the Road Much Traveled. Chris feels however, that modern society and its goals are a barrier between himself and his soul, and therefore he seeks to bridge that gap and, as trite as it sounds, to "find" himself.

The Search for God: Religion is referenced many times during this movie, and while Chris may not be "religious" he is deeply spiritual. Although he confesses several times that he "does not know what he is looking for," we are led to believe by the end of the film that part of what he is looking for his own true spirituality or, in simpler terms, God. In spite of a tragic end, we are led to believe that at least this part of his journey was sucessful.

The Sins of the Father: As the film quickly reveals, Chris has some serious issues with his parents. These issues influence him perhaps more than anything else in his life. At one point we learn that, when he was 18, Chris discovered some haunting secrets about his father, secrets which his father planned never to tell him. Basically, he learns that his parent lied to him about how they met and started their relationship, and that his father had a son by another woman before Chris was born; a son whom he chose not to include in his new life. This lie imbues Chris with deep questions about his own identity, and a deep sense of mistrust of his parents, enough to make him want to leave them for two years and never contact them for any reason, even to tell them he is okay. In a way, the sins of Chris's parents, specifically his father, come back to haunt the family.

Brief Analysis:

The above mentioned elements combined in anyone would equal a pretty heavy soul-search. They do not however, seem to add up to quite as extreme a cross-country trek as Chris undertakes in this film. He burns and gives away his money, completely cuts himself off from his parents and friends, places himself in ridiculously ill-advised situations, and eschews any type of comfort. This is all above and beyond what you might call a "road-trip."

While his boldness, tenacity, and authenticity are quite admirable, at the end of this film we must believe there was something not quite right about this young man. He was brave, intelligent, and resourceful, but he was too extreme for his own good, as is proved by the way he met his end.

Though it is hard to criticize someone who is not materialistic, who wants to understand himself, and who is not afraid to live his life how he wants, it seems there was some great fault in his logic which finally caught up to him in the end; some basic fault in his motivations that caused him to go one adventure too far.

Though in the end of the film, he does "see the light" and tries to leave the woods--only to be trapped by a swollen river he cannot cross--it seems that his adventure was ill-fated from the start (Granted, this could be because I knew how the story would end before seeing the movie). Somehow, even without advance knowledge, it just seems Chris is bound to get in over his head. In fact, it seems he wanted to get in over his head.

By all means, see this movie, with or without having read the book however, eventually read the book too.


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