At one time or another, many of us have envisioned abandoning our current lifestyles to venture the paths less traveled. This might involve a spontaneous road trip to Mexico, or perhaps several years backpacking across Europe.
For many, the thought merely occurs for a few minutes, particularly during finals week, and is gone by dinnertime. But for others, this image is a lifelong aspiration that cannot be easily discarded.
For Christopher McCandless, played by Emile Hirsche, this vision guides his life. The 2007 film “Into the Wild”, directed by Sean Penn and based on the book of the same name by John Krakauer, portrays one man’s journey of a lifetime.
For a young man of 20, McCandless’ life appears orderly and refined, no doubt on the up-and-up path to aristocratic standards of success. As a recent graduate of Emory University, his path is seemingly directed to law school. However, after donating his entire life savings to charity, McCandless disappears without a trace.
He deserts his family, friends and livelihood without a backward glance to experience what few have the guts to attempt: living off nature, luck and the kindness of strangers.
With all he had going for him, why does McCandless decide to pick up and leave so spontaneously? Perhaps it was an act of defiance against his parents and their predictable, patrician lifestyle. Or maybe the idea of living as one with nature was too enticing to pass up. One thing is for certain — he was on a quest for self-discovery and truth.
McCandless burns his social security card, changes his name to Alexander Supertramp and pursues his goal to travel into the wild. His journey takes him across the United States from South Dakota, to the Grand Canyon, to Los Angeles, and even down to Mexico. But his true desire is to travel into the Alaskan wilderness.
The people McCandless encounters on the road are the true backbone of his experience. Though the authority figures are predictably unfriendly to his cause, others are surprisingly compassionate.
Many are willing to provide food, shelter and protection to McCandless in addition to advice and lifelong lessons. Despite the kindness these people express, he always leaves before the relationships become too intimate.
This film captures a vast range of emotions for one who has detached from society at large. Through his long journey, McCandless experiences independence, joy, satisfaction and strength. Yet as the months and years go by, negative emotions such as fear and loneliness begin to surface as well.
The beauty of this film, both visually and internally, is immeasurable. It is fully capable of capturing its viewers’ attention and admiration. Sean Penn does a majestic job at directing this movie, which is based on a true story that occurred in the early 1990s.
McCandless’ story provokes us to question life as we live it. How much are we willing to risk to discover the unknown? For some, life’s lessons are better found outside the borders of institutions and civilization. They are found in the raw remnants of human existence and nature. There are few who choose to follow this less traveled path, but for those who do, the experience is unforgettable.
Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.