“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit.”
“Into the Wild” is a film that follows the story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate whose plans on attending Harvard Law School are abruptly halted when he decides to donate all of his savings to charity, burn his social security card and all other forms of identification, and head west.
The film is an adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book by the same name. Heavily influenced by famous radicals Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London, McCandless becomes a radical in his own right.
His ultimate goal is to get to Alaska. To escape the bonds of society in the vast, uncharted northwestern wilderness. As he heads west, driving some of the way, hitchhiking and walking most of it, he realizes he needs to take some time to gain some extra cash and study up on how exactly to survive when he gets there.
He works at an elevator in South Dakota for awhile, kayaks the Colorado River into Mexico, and lives with a variety of different people in various places. The characters he meets are unique, as all people are, but always radiate something upon Chris.
Chris, who at this point has actually changed his name to Alexander Supertramp, eventually arrives in the Alaskan wilderness. He survives on berries, roots, and squirrels.
Living alone in the wilderness is difficult however. Nature is not always forgiving for McCandless. At one point he mixes up two very similar roots, one being extremely poisonous, causing starvation. He dies a slow death, yet in his final moments, he has a realization:
“Happiness is only real when shared.”
He changes his name back to Christopher McCandless. Yet, he does not regret the life he has chosen.
“I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”
With this, McCandless passes away. Before we dismiss McCandless’s story as ridiculous, naive, or immature, I request that we try to make something of this fascinating man.
The story of Christopher McCandless does not resonate with me simply because it shows how a man tried to break the chains society had on him and escape into the wilderness, only to find that he desperately needed that very society in which he left. Nor does it resonate with me just because it is an inspiring story of a man that realized people are machines that society has guilefully formulated to fit the proper, the standard, the consistent.
I resonate with McCandless’s story because I feel like it is an exaggerated take on every man’s life. Society frustrates me. I want to be me. Not society’s projection of me. I don’t want the rules, the walls, the little boxes we all put ourselves in. I want the experience of life in its fullest. I want the spiritual. This was the desire of McCandless, and I believe it is deep down the desire of every person. Some of us have been or will be hardened over time by the mistakes we’ve made, the times we’ve been screwed over, or the times we haven’t lived up to expectations. But I truly believe this desire that so overwhelmed McCandless is in us all. I do not believe it is random. This desire is truth. Yet, as in all things, truth can go different ways.
While man needs the wild, the unstructured, he also needs community. He was made for community. Throughout his journey, McCandless meets people of a vast range of backgrounds and finds a certain beauty and truth in each one.
Each person at one time or another teaches McCandless a thing or two, and McCandless often returns the favor. He helps them, they help him back.
This combination of community, society, and structure with the wildness of life is not merely random desires that we have. It is what it means to be human. We are held in bondage to the structures of society. We are at the mercy of mother nature. But through each we can also experience the most breathtaking beauty that life has to offer. We can experience ourselves.
Society can be daunting and relentless. But we need it.
The wilderness can be frightening. But we need it.
McCandless’s story reveals this to us.
In all the suffering we experience in life, don’t lose sight of the beautiful. Because its here. Sometimes you just have to look for it.
Be wild. Break free from the bondage, the rules, the expectations, the norms of society. Explore. Experience the world in its most primitive form. Send yourself on a journey into the wild. Into mankind’s ancient past. See your relation to all things. To the trees towering up out of the ground. To the four-leggeds who walk on land. To the wings of the air. To the flowing streams teaming with fish. To the wind that rustles the leaves. Don’t lose sight of the wildness inside of you.
Be community. Do not let the suffering you experience, the pain that others may cause you, the expectations that others place on you hinder your desire to be brother and sister to all. Hear someone’s story instead of giving your own. Take some advice rather than give it. Share a laugh. Give a hug. Drop a task and be a friend. Work less, play harder. See the beauty in someone, rather than the ugly. Don’t complain about someone who annoys you, learn from them.
Be grace. Be love. Be beauty. It is the community of all people, and the wildness we each possess that allows us to dive fully into the depths of these three things, and ultimately explore our humanness.