Saturday, January 05, 2008

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Recently I was watching the Culture Show, that sounds pretentious but isn’t really. I like it because it covers everything from movies to the theatre, indie music to classical, and today’s art to the classics.

Anyway, they had Sean Penn on talking about his new movie based on this book. I was really intrigued. Penn had spent a lot of time trying to get this movie off of the ground and you could tell that it meant so much to him. The strength of his feeling really compelled me. I have a tendency not to be able to watch movies that have this much feeling…so I thought I would pick up the book and see what I thought.

The author Jon Krakauer is most famous for writing “Into Thin Air”, an account of a 1996 expedition to the summit of Everest, where 8 people died. I remember when this book came out and at the time, couldn’t bring myself to read it. (Another one of those…book is too popular…I’m not going to read it… things I do….which are sometime stupid….but hey! I have my ways!). But the fact that he wrote this book made it more interesting to me. I assumed that it was probably well written, and it was. I decided that if he was so interested in this kid that he wrote a book about him, I would like to know why.

So what made Penn and Krakauer interested in a kid that goes off into the woods of Alaska and dies? Because there is so much mystery to what motivated this kid. His name was Chris McCandless, a newly graduated young man who decided to go off on a wander around the US. He had a mother and father and sister who loved him. He made friends along the way. He kept in contact with many of these friends and one older gentleman felt like he was a son. So he did care about people and they cared about him. Even though he drifted and didn’t want to be found, so stayed clear of the law, he still tried to live a very moral life. When his prize procession a Datsun gets flooded he goes out on foot, burning all identification and money he has, instead of contacting the police for help.

This is one of the mysteries, why did he burn the money? You find out in the book that his last two years of education had been paid for by a friend of the family. The rest of the money he took and donated it to OXFAM. The money he burned amounted to a pitiful sum, just enough for him to live on for a week if he was careful…but he burns it. Of course he then needs money so he ends up hitchhiking and working as he goes. Did he feel that last bit of money he had wasn’t earned?

Part of me understands that he wanted to live an uncluttered life. He wanted to rely only on himself. He didn’t want to live for money. He wanted to live like the characters in his favourite books by Thoreau and Tolstoy. I don’t think he wanted others to rely on him. But why?

Many people Krakauer talked to thought Chris was one more fool that thought that he was indestructible and had the hubris to think he could survive on his own strength and intellect. I don’t think that Chris felt that way at all. In one of his last letters he said:

This is the last you shall hear from me Wayne. Arrived here 2 days ago. It was very difficult to catch rides in the Yukon Territory. But I finally got here.

Please return all mail I receive to the sender. It might be a very long time before I return South.

If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again, I want you to know you’re a great man. I know walk into the wild.



He knew that there was a good chance that he wasn’t going to make it, and yet he went.

I find myself wanting to tell you too much about the story. Krakauer writes so well that, if you are interested read the book. Krakauer goes back and forth and tells you the story in a really interesting way, quoting letters and using interviews that he did with people that were touched by Chris’s life. He also gives other examples of men that go off and try to make it living in the wild, even giving examples of his own feelings that run along this same vein. So why do they do it? I’m not sure I still understand. Maybe it is a gender thing, I can respect him for what he did….but as a woman I know that I need others. I know that I don’t want to do everything myself without some help and I like to help others. But maybe it isn’t, maybe it was because of the dirty little secret he found out about his father……that is another mystery…..

I’m not giving anything away when I say that Chris dies in the end alone in a bus abandoned in Alaska. This is the part that I’m worried about when I see the movie. It is easier to read such things sometimes, then to see them. But in a way I really admire him. He did what he wanted to do. You might say he failed…but he kept saying he wanted to try to live off the land in Alaska and he did for awhile…I admire the courage it took to live life the way he wanted to and not let anyone else tell him what his life should be like. That is amazing. How many of us have that courage?

I decided to check and see if the movie was showing in our area. It just so happens, that it is here for three days, today…tomorrow…and Monday. So I’ve booked tickets for Monday evening. I’m a bit apprehensive….but the actors are people that I like and I really want to see what Penn does with the story. It doesn't hurt that the soundtrack was written by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. I’ll have to make another post to let you know what I think after seeing it.

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Pan Books, 1996.


olduvai said...

I read this book last month, and for some reason, while I knew it was a true story, couldn't help hoping that at the end of it, Krakauer would go, guess what? I made it up? It's truly bewildering what made Chris do it. How did the movie go? Oh btw, hi, I came across your blog by clicking on the link at Brit Lit Blogs.

Dawn said...

I know how you felt. I cried almost all through the movie because I knew what was going to happen. But it was so moving and wonderful. The photography was beautiful and I definitely would suggest watching it on the biggest screen you can!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm now reading this book, about 3/4's of the way done with it. Into the Wild reminds myself alot of my older brother, who has hiked half of the Appalachian Trail. I wasn't real certain what my brother would go through and this movie/book helped me understand his feelings and his passion for going out into the wilderness and finding what he loves. Hiking. Chris McCandless has changed my life just by reading a book. It makes me want to go out and discover new parts of the world. I do also suggest everyone to watch it on the biggest screen possible! All time favorite movie, lots of beautiful photogrophy of nature and wild animals. Loved loved loved this book and movie!