Into The Wild Film - Caleb Springer          

Into The Wild Essay


Since the release of the 2014 film Wild telling the story of Cheryl Strayed’s journey across the Pacific Crest Trail the previous film Into the Wild depicting the life of Chris McCandless has been all too quickly forgotten. Chris left in 1990 for good while Cheryl left in 1995 for return. While the two films may have similar themes and undertones they are quite different in nature.

Cheryl took a trail that was rugged and perilous, but also a trail that was already trodden many times by other hikers. The PCT is a footpath that doesn’t include much deviation which is what many people with shattered lives need in order to regain a sense of purpose and concentration.

Cheryl left for the trail with what I gather to be concerns of coping with death and chemical dependency. Instead of checking herself into a cliché rehab clinic she attached herself to nature and therefore attached herself to an old American narrative that has always advocated a healing relationship between psyche and nature.

Nature has repeatedly shown itself to be a powerful antidote in coping with loss and chemical dependency. However, the physical world of nature, including one’s own inner self, is not explicit in its revelation, but actually quite sublime. Most times I find myself hungry and fatigued, wondering why I have once again traveled with my camera to the ends of the earth. However somewhere deep inside of me I know that my need to watch the sun rise and set each day is imperative to my own need for survival. Without this assurance I’m left as a voyeur with an alarm clock googling photos of great sunrises.

Cheryl finished the Pacific Crest Trail and has been able to name and claim her legacy, speaking for herself and having the privilege of controlling the winds of interpretation. Because she returned with boons she has not just been able to speak about her trip but also on a myriad of other topics since her credibility and status were elevated. Cheryl earned her mouthpiece and people have listened rightfully so.  But let’s be clear, Cheryl is protected by powerful institutions nowadays while Chris’s life was left in the wild and his story dismembered throughout the years.  

The major difference I see with Chris’s journey is the variety of methods he used to survive including homeless shelters, waterways and the discipline to earn money through work. I’m not sure it’s reasonable to conclude Chris was even a hiker as much as a man making way to Alaska. Chris had no clear path laid before him, except to get to Alaska by any means possible. At the end of his road there was no pot of gold which is why underlying Chris’s story is a tragic component. No people, no friendly dog or ribbon which he would cut as he raced across the finish line. Just more work and the onerous task of providing for himself with little means of help. However it could be argued that Chris didn’t want help which lead to his death.

Chris’s death leaves more questions than answers which is why I find him mysterious. I’ve repeatedly conducted introspection regarding how I approach coercive self-help programs, rehabilitation centers and the American culture at large that is becoming more afraid of individuation. Chris still gives me a mouthpiece to speak about my concerns.  Unlike Cheryl, Chris left little advice for others (as if people in this country need more advisors) other than some scribbles in a notebook. Chris left inconclusive evidence and I find stories that are cut short give back abundantly because they permit an eleventh hour decision to be made so that I can alter or make a last minute change so that by the thirteenth hour I can look back without regret.

Lastly, there has been a heightened sense of urgency on the part of many people to hike the PCT, Appalachia Trail and even take a pilgrimage to the iconic bus in Alaska which Chris called home. While these stories of death and resurrection contribute to a long history of discussion involving psychological wellness and the need for a cathartic experience, I doubt taking the same path these two strong individuals took will lead me, or anybody to the same conclusions they found. However the path I believe many are trying to trod is a path of self-emergence, where ones creativity and faith is renewed.


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