Last night my wife and I saw "Into the Wild," a terrific movie that speaks to anyone (which means, almost everyone) who has harbored thoughts of chucking it all in and starting over – free of entanglements, material or mental.
Fittingly, it was a pretty wild night for us. The movie started at 8:50 pm and it runs two and a half hours. Almost all of the people in line with us were young people for whom a Saturday night just starts to get going at midnight.
For us, it's sleepy time. But with this being the "fall back" from daylight savings time, we were ready to cut loose into the wee morning hours. I even had some popcorn with real butter on it, forgetting for a moment my usual heart-healthy diet anxieties.
"Into the Wild" is the true story of Christopher McCandless, who was about to enter law school when he decided to burn his social security card (along with his money), donate his $24,000 college fund to Oxfam, and head out on the road by himself –seeking both an inner and outer Alaska.
Freedom. Independence. Reality. Truth.
Whatever it took to reach his "Alaska," McCandless was passionate about doing it. He took on the name of Alexander Supertramp and hitch-hiked around the country before ending up in the Alaskan wilderness. (You can listen to one of the Eddie Vedder songs featured in the movie and see photos of his journeying here.)
I found "Into the Wild" deeply moving. It's a movie that sticks with you, unlike the usual quickly-digested cinematic fare that is seen today and forgotten tomorrow.
I liked a scene where McCandless asks a Grand Canyon ranger what it takes to do down the Colorado River. He's told that the waiting list for a permit is twelve years, but maybe he could find a guided tour able to take him soon, if it's had a cancellation. That'd cost over a thousand dollars, though.
McCandless buys a small kayak with some of the money he earned at a mid-west wheat farm. With no experience in white-water river running, and no helmet, he heads down the Colorado.
Somehow he makes it. All the way to the Gulf of Cortez in Mexico, in fact. With some dragging of the kayak through the desert, when the river water ran out.
Along his way McCandless meets intriguing characters. He challenges them to burst the boundaries that they've caged themselves behind. Do something different! Climb a mountain! See farther than you ever have before!
McCandless/Supertramp's wise-beyond-his-years outlook on life reminded me of the "Three Laughers at the Tiger Ravine." In this blog post I quoted Ray Grigg's description of a drawing by the same name.
[The drawing] shows a Taoist, a Confucian, and a Buddhist circled together in uproarious laughter. Apparently the Buddhist had taken a vow never to leave the monastery but, in the enthusiasm of visiting with his two friends, he inadvertently wanders over the bridge of the ravine that defines the monastery's grounds.
The distant roar of a tiger breaks the spell of their visit and they realize the vow of confinement has been broken. They clasp each other's hands and laugh. This is the playful spirit that supersedes vows and teachings and ideologies.
Rules. Vows. Commandments. Disciplines.
They have a place. But not in the wild, not nearly so much.
There's an Alaska within each of us that begs to be explored. We know it's there. We're attracted to it. But something holds us back from venturing into the terra incognita.
McCandless courageously cut the ties that bound him. He's an inspiration to the churchless. And to other adventurers who head off into unknown territory, whether inner or outer.