Into The Wild - Rob Jones          

Into The Wild Essay


Rob Jones
Professor Amanda Moore
English 1B
25 November, 2012

The Adventures of Alexander Supertramp
Based on the 1996 non-fiction book by Jon Krakaver, the movie Into The Wild is based on the travels of Christopher McCandless, more commonly known by his alias as Alexander Supertramp. McCandless was from an affluent Virginia suburb where his parents highly praised education, so it was only natural that he graduated from Emory University with Honors in 1990. But this story of an average kid from Virginia turns extraordinary when McCandless decides to donate his entire life’s savings - $24,000+ - to charity and venture out in an odyssey of the American countryside without telling a soul why he’s going or even his real name (CBS). Although all of Alexander Supertramps adventures were real, there was no genuine evidence or proof of the details of his trip other than a journal and some pictures. The director does a good job trying to recreate Alexander Supertramps steps but there are questionable scenes in the movie which lead the audience to debate on whether it actually happened or if the director is displaying a scene that he wants the audience to reflect upon that might not have necessarily happened. This is where the director’s artistic liberties such as from the image he wants to depict come into collision with actual facts from Alexander Supertramps life. Needless to say, Alexander Supertramps adventures were so momentous and the movie reflects this well. From coming from such a tightly-knit circle of expectations that when he decides to break out and experience the world from the eyes of nature, he gets lost in America’s transcendental landscape in his journey to truly find himself and reach Alaska. The cinematography of the movie does Christopher McCandless’ adventures of the American terrain justice and the direction from Sean Penn and acting by Emile Hersche is of similar par.

One of the first most important scenes in the movie happens right at the beginning of McCandless’ adventure. Once he has made the decision that he will take this endeavour on to explore nature and reach Alaska, there is a certain scene in his room where he takes his I.D card, social security card, credit/debit cards and cuts them up and throws them in a trash can where he proceeds to burn any evidence remaining. This leaves the audience to debate whether McCandless was creating a statement for his parents or was he trying to fully accept that if he was to take on this odyssey, he would go balls to the wall or not at all. This scene might not represent how things went exactly in real life - McCandless could’ve just hidden everything - but the scene represents syllogism. By burning all forms of identification that people could recognize him by, he now could truly escape the non-understanding reality he used to live in, and fully embrace this new life and new adventure he was to engage into and accept his new identity as Alexander Supertramp; homeless and parentless man on a quest to find himself in his travels to Alaska. And only to cement this fact into his mind, as soon as Supertramp began his journey “into the wild”, the director presents a scene to the audience of him laying his money on the ground and burning it, then walking away. There was no going back to his old life and now there was no fallback either.

From some of the actions that Supertramp makes in the movie and also in real life, they leave the audience to ponder, “why would he do such things? Leave the comfort of a loving, financially stable family to risk his life on a journey that seemed to have no end, and to not tell anyone about it either, just disappear into thin air”. The truth to the matter is, that his life wasn’t as perfect as it appeared to be. Throughout the movie the director bounces scenes from present to past to show what Alexander Supertramps life was before his adventure. One particular scene that the director chose to show was of McCandless’ parents engaging into an argument. Walt McCandless - Christopher's father - would always show a position of unmatched authority in the relationship and he would do this by verbally and physically abusing Christopher’s mother, Billie. This scene shows Walt throwing Billie across the room, shouting and cursing her as he proceeded to assert his dominance while Christopher and his sister, Carine would listen in from the other room in horror. The scene depicted that not all was well at home for Christopher McCandless, he kept referring to his parents as “not being right for eachother” (Into The Wild). The upcoming scene goes on to be narrated by Christopher McCandless himself telling the story of how his parents first met, how his father was a wealthy computer technology designer, how he had a previous marriage before Christopher’s mother, and how his mother was actually Walt’s mistress during the time he was already married which ultimately made Walt leave his wife for her. From what I read from this scene was that no healthy or long lasting relationship begins within lies and deceit and that maybe Christopher’s parents only stayed together to raise their kids together as a family but not necessarily in love or even enjoyed each others presence. Christopher McCandless seemed to be truly haunted by this truth about his parents which leads the audience to believe that this could have been the dominating factor towards why he would embark on this crazy adventure of self actualization that was so risky in an unforgiving place like nature.

An important scene that shows Christopher McCandless’ character is one during the day of his graduation, at a restaurant for a family dinner. Christopher and his sister Carine arrive late to his anxiously waiting parents not amused. This scene is particularly important to the movie because it shows what type of person McCandless is and reinforces his decision to leave everything behind and backpack to Alaska. McCandless is dumbfounded when his parents offer him a brand new car as a graduation present when he responds, “why would I need a new car when mine right now works perfectly fine”. His parents are taken aback, confused to why their son - like any other young man in his position - wouldn’t want a brand new free car. The director puts this scene in to highlight one of McCandless’ best qualities, simplicity. When coming from an upper-middle class American society where people are judged for what they have and their level of intelligence is determined almost solely on what University they graduated from and what degree they attained, he was one of a kind. This scene also brings to light questions that the audience have to why he would leave everything he had behind to go on a quest he knew nothing about. Questions such as, “Where are you going to sleep? What are you going to eat? What if you get sick? You might die”. To McCandless, none of these things mattered, in fact, they actually intrigued him. Coming from a life where everyone around him lived in excess and his expectations from his parents were unrealistically high. Simplicity was the key, simplicity was his escape. He didn’t need a fancy new car, or a future degree from Harvard law school that his parents wanted him to get, or even money for that matter. McCandless wanted to escape from the reality that he lived in and discover a brand new one where he could truly find himself, in this case, to be in nature. This scene illustrates to the audience how truly easy a decision this was for McCandless to make, regardless of how dangerous it was.

Finally the most important scene of the entire movie would have to be during his time in the “magic bus”, an abandoned bus he had discovered in the middle of nowhere in the American countryside that gave him refuge from the harsh winter. The irony of the “magic bus” was that not only did it save his life, from the unforgiving climate and terrain of nature, but ultimately, it lead to his death. McCandless found refuge in this bus. It gave him a place where he could cook his food, rest from his travels, and shelter from nature. He would go out day by day hunting for food, only to return to the bus; a place he called home. Despite the fact that McCandless embarked on this adventure of the wild to escape his unforgiving life back home, he was greeted with an equally unforgiving life in nature. Christopher McCandless survived 113 days in nature with limited supplies, no companion, and with almost no help from others whatsoever. The tragic irony of such an accomplished feat from surviving nature for so long, is that he died from one of the simplest things; eating a poisonous sweet potato. McCandless was an avid reader - it was his escape from reality back home in Virginia - and he relished in writings from authors such as Henry Thoreau. And once McCandless came across these sweet potato’s he referenced his books to see it was edible or not. By a twist of fate, these poisonous sweet potato’s looked identical to those of a similar, non-poisonous sweet potato except the only non-similarity was that one of the sweet potato’s had vertical-lined veins going across it, while the other had horizontal ones. This one little detail determined whether Christopher McCandless would live or die. And to only make things worse, McCandless had decided that he wanted to return home to Virginia. His body was found two weeks later by deer hunters that later identified his body for his McCandless’ parents.

In conclusion, Christopher McCandless’ adventure was one that shocked the entire country. There were people who McCandless had touched emotionally that praised him for his courage to find self actualization, but then there were also those who denounced him as clueless and suicidal. Nonetheless, McCandless was a confused young man who didn’t know who he was and what he wanted in his life. But he had the courage to stand up and contest the expectations of a life he didn’t want; a life he didn’t feel was real. Sean Penn, the director of the movie about Christopher McCandless’ life, Into the Wild, did Christopher and the whole McCandless family justice. The cinematography in the movie really made the audience feel like they were there with Christopher during his travels. The panoramic camera views showed the audience how truly beautiful the American countryside is and comforts the audience to why McCandless risked everything to experience such beauty. The acting by Emile Hersche who played Christopher McCandless and the other actors and actresses who played the role of his family did his life justice also. Sean Penn’s artistic liberties in the movie really let the audience identify with the characters on an intimate level. Scenes such as when Walt and Billie McCandless are fighting or the scene where Christopher McCandless takes his last breath before he starves to death in the “magic bus” make the audience truly empathize with the characters and I personally believe that it was a truly well done movie, through and through.

Works Cited
Into the Wild. Dir. Sean Penn. Perf. Emile Hersche, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener. Paramount, 2007. DVD.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 1997. Print.
"Sean Penn Goes "Into The Wild"" CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 12 Feb. 2009. Web.
Caryn Mays




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