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.
"And to other adventurers who head off into unknown territory, whether inner or outer."
Good point I suspect the inner search for our mind’s unknown potentials has far greater and more challenging adventures than the outer search.
Very few want to take that inner search as most want to find a system of beliefs they can accept and then defend those beliefs in spite of the evidence.
Why is this so? Could it be our beliefs are us. Who we are or at least who we perceive we are is nothing more than this “bundle of beliefs”. I have read that some suggest our perception of self (bundle of beliefs) is who others think we are. I suspect it is a combination of both.
Our beliefs are usually not open for discussion as we defend them to the end, as our beliefs are our perceived personal identity. We are like this walking bundle of beliefs and to question one’s beliefs is to question their personal identity even if their beliefs are that there is no self to question.
The human mind is an amazing instrument capable of unbelievable potential. Just saw a special on TV on the original rain man. His mind’s abilities defy explanation.
Again maybe out minds will someday have the capabilities of this rain man. As I have stated many times on this blog we humans are only at the beginning stages of this evolutionary process.
Posted by: william | November 04, 2007 at 02:03 PM
Brian, you wrote:
"I even had some popcorn with real butter on it, forgetting for a moment my usual heart-healthy diet anxieties."
It is amazing how the animal fat/cholesterol connection to heart disease persists. It is still so ingrained in the public psyche that it borders on blind religious belief. This is decidedly un-churchless!!
Have a kayak ride on the slippery slope of butter without anxiety:
Posted by: Tucson | November 04, 2007 at 03:00 PM
Haven't seen the film but read the book. And, I think even the producers say the movie was "inspired" by a true story. I'm a big fan of Jon Krakauer's writing. He was fascinated by this story because of some of his own foolhardy escapades where he survived but only because of good luck (or good karma). My take on Chris McCandless was that he was a bit of a doofus. It's great if you survive the Colorado River as a helmetless, unskilled kayaker; not so great when you starve to death in an old bus in the Alaska wilderness because you just weren't ready for the experience and because you made one bad decision after another. Perhaps it's my own cautious nature that makes me not want to admire the late Chris McCandless but reluctantly esteem Jon Krakauer's equally foolish and breathtaking solo climb of Devil's Thumb. Maybe a successful outcome is important. Isn't that why a lot of people on this blog have chucked RSSB? They believe they found themselves sitting alone in the wilderness starving for spiritual experience and decided to walk out?
I suppose there is an Alaska within all of us waiting to be explored. But it would seem prudent to be more prepared for the exploration than poor Chris seemed to be. Or, more cautious. Or, more skeptical.
Does he die in the film?
Posted by: R Blog | November 04, 2007 at 05:59 PM
Randy/R Blog, yes, he does die. This is so well known, and doesn't at all spoil the movie, that I'll answer your question.
I just had a conversation about the movie along much the same lines as your comment. I understand what you're saying.
However, I believe about a quarter of the people who attempt to climb Mt. Everest also die (maybe not quite that high a percentage, but it's a lot).
They're very well prepared and organized, by and large. It's just risky business. Yes, McCandless took big risks. I was told today that he didn't have a map that would have told him that the swollen river that kept him trapped in his "magic bus" could have been forded upstream or downstream.
Bad preparation, from one perspective. But his intention was to go into the wild naked, so to speak. Armed with as little as possible.
I admire the guy. But I haven't read the book and don't know how closely the movie tracked the reality of McCandless.
Posted by: Brian | November 04, 2007 at 07:18 PM
It was a great and moving movie. The book is a must-read too. The movie succeeds on lots of levels: great nature photography, fine acting, moving human relationships.
But what attracts me most about the story is indeed this sense of abandoning everything for total freedom. When I was younger (late teens through mid-20s) there were periods when I didn't stay in one place for more than 6-months or a year. Over 2 years in Asia. Over 2 years in American meditation ashrams. I gave no thought to the people I left behind along the way... but now I do.
Freedom has it's beauty, but it's not the ultimate point of life. What do you do with freedom, how do you use it? Is it enough just to get the good feelings of freedom for myself?
I couldn't admire "Into the Wild"'s Chris without reservation. For one thing, in my youth, I hung around with some Grateful Dead hippie-type folks. Yeah, they were colorful, fascinating, great in their way. Yet still... there was this sense that they placed such a high value on never planning, never committing. And that may have felt great for them, but doesn't it often place a burden on those around them?
FWIW, I have no children, but I have spoken to parents who saw "Into the Wild," and it had a huge affect on how they perceived the whole story. One grandmother I know could only feel anger for Chris, thinking about how he abandonned everyone who cared for him. Would it really have "cost" him anything to let his family know how he was? Does freedom have to be entirely "for me"?
Posted by: Stuart | November 06, 2007 at 01:51 PM