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Review & Analysis of “Into the Wild”

December 13, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

I. Preview

            I first came across the story of Christopher McCandless when I was required to read Jon Krakauer’s novel, Into the Wild, for my English class at UC Riverside.   I found the novel intriguing and even put it in the category of one of my favorite books, so when I heard that Sean Penn was making the book into a movie, I could not wait to see it.  I found the story and journey of Christopher McCandless to be interesting and a bit crazy, which may have made it so interesting.  The fact that it was a true story also made it all the more intriguing.  It is amazing how someone can disconnect themselves from their everyday life, which did not seem to be a bad life from the outside, and go into, well, the wild.  And the relationships he created along his journey with others were intriguing as well, and how he affected their lives.  It seemed as though Christopher was trying to truly find himself, or thinking he already knew who he was, discovering and exploring that part of himself.  I believe that is a huge part of what this story is about.  But, I also believe it is about human relationships or the lack there of and how one person can affect so many.


II. Content Description

            “Into the Wild” takes place in the early 1990’s, where Christopher McCandless grew up in Washington D.C. suburbs and graduated from Emory University of Atlanta, Georgia.  He had a wealthy family and had quite a bit of money himself but that did not seem important to Chris at all.  He was an intelligent guy and was at the top of his class.  He eventually stopped communicating with his family, moved out of his apartment, and up and gave away twenty four thousand dollars to an organization, OXFAM, and becomes homeless. 

His father, Samuel Walter McCandless, Jr., or Walt, is a wealthy man who works for NASA and Hughes aircraft.  He is first married to a lady named Marcia whom he had five other children with before having Chris and Carine, Chris’ sister, with their mother Billie.  Jon Krakuaer’s idea of, author of Into the Wild, and the way Sean Penn portrays Walt in the film is that Walt is the root to the reason that Chris ran off and left everything behind.  He had learned that his father had been married still to Marcia while beginning a family with Billie and Walt had always pushed Chris to perfection like a father who pushes their son in a sport they do not want to be in.  His mother was also a push that leads him to run away.  Chris held her responsible with what his father did and was a cause of his rejection to society.  Chris found his chance to escape this all by leaving everything behind and running into the wild.  However, despite his despise for his parents, Chris was very close with his sister Carine.  He talks to her a lot and shares his feelings with her, so it is no surprise to her that Chris would up and leave like that, but it is a surprise that he would stop talking to even her.  She becomes a voice throughout the movie commenting here and there on Chris’ character, his actions, and his relationship with the family. 

Taking only his car and some cash, and picking up the name of Alexander Supertramp, Alex travels across the country, picking up small jobs here and there to earn money as he goes along.  One day his car is wiped out by mud in a flash flood.  He leaves the car behind, burns his remaining money and hitch hikes his way around.  He comes across some people in the movie with whom he does not intend on developing relationships with by touches their lives none the less.  Hitch hiking, he comes across a couple, very much hippies, Jan Burres and her boyfriend.  Alex actually stays with them for awhile and comes across them more than once in the film.  They take Alex under their wing and Jan treats Alex as her own son which she had lost.  Her nurturing way shows her belonging needs and need to fulfill an empty spot in her life.  She encourages Alex to live free of society but also advises him to be careful.  During his stay with Jan and her boyfriend, Alex meets a young girl, Tracy, who takes a liking to Alex.  They spend a lot of time together and although she may seem to be fulfilling the love need of Alex, in the end he objects it as she ends up only being sixteen.  Alex also comes across an old widower who at first seems stand-offish but warms up to Alex and is so touched by him considers him like a son and even asks Alex if he can adopt him when he gets back from Alaska.  This man, Ronald Franz, had been a lonely man since his wife died, and Alex fulfilled that belonging need that Ronald had needed.  Alex sees that if he does not change he will become old and lonely like him.  He tries to offer advice to Alex and gives him some items to help aid him on his adventure.

Alex finds his way over to Carthage, South Dakota, where he ends up working for Wayne Westerberg.  Wayne becomes a good friend of Alex’s, and he stays with Wayne for awhile.  He writes him while on his journey.  He shows Alex how a middle class man is in comparison to a materialistic man such as his father.  McCandless finally makes it to Alaska, where he travels across stream and comes across an old bus in the middle of the wilderness.  The bus is set up there for hunters that travel out during hunting season and serves as a rest spot. It has a bed and a stove, perfect camp for Supertramp.  He lives off of a bag of rice, hunts, and gathers, surviving in the wild. He eventually decides to return to society but as the winter had past, the ice had melted and the stream is now a wider river; not to mention Alex is afraid of water.  He is forced to return back to the bus.  He eventually runs out of rice, and can not find anything to hunt.  He begins to gather plants, and thinking that he has gathered a potato plant, finds himself quite ill and discovers in a plant book he has that he actually consumed a sweet pea plant which is highly poisonous.  This ultimately leads to Alex’s death. 


III. Review

            Christopher McCandless, a.k.a Alexander Supertramp, is not only the main character in this film but a key figure of human communication.  Although he tries to isolate himself from society, the events that lead to it were a part of his communication responses.  The people he meets along the way to the wild show different aspects of communication, and even in the end his belonging needs are shown.

            The affect that Christopher’s relationship with his parents had on him lead to a rebellion from the lifestyle he was living.  The interpersonal relationship with his parents was a front as he bottled up what he was really longing for.  His parents had created a meaning of life for Chris transactional by trying to teach him that perfection, success, and money were important parts to it.   He had longed for a life free of society, and was obviously not materialistic like his parents, being able to give his life savings of twenty four thousand dollars and all.  He finds the need to not only completely kill all ties to his life but to change his name along with his lifestyle, to Alexander Supertramp. 

            Alex fits perfectly with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, fulfilling every level in one way or another.  Although he leaves his car behind and burns his money, Alex still works here and there so that he can survive and eat.  He also makes sure he goes into the wild in Alaska with enough food and water to last him for the length of time he plans to live out there.  This fits the first level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as the physiological needs level.  Along the way he finds shelter here and there, and stays with the people he meets along the way for short periods of time.  When he makes his way into the wild he finds an old abandoned bus which conveniently has a bed and stove.  He sets up this as his place to stay in the wild, thus fulfilling the second level of safety and security. 

            Although Alex tries to detach himself from society, he still develops relationships with people he encounters on his journey.  When he comes across Jan Burres, he develops a mother-son relationship with her, perhaps filling in the spot of his own mother whom he was trying to escape. Similarly, Ronald Franz tried taking over as a father figure, but Alex found more of a father figure in Wayne Westerberg.  Tracy, the young sixteen year old, guitar playing girl, was sort of a love figure for Alex, even though he ended up rejecting the chance as she was too young for him, but every story has to have a love story somewhere.  When Alex traveled into the wilderness he later had decided to finally return to society. It goes to show that everyone needs to belong and have some sort of social connection eventually, that they can not completely disconnect themselves forever. This meets the third level which is love and social belonging needs. 

            The next level, self-esteem, is trying to figure out who we are.  Alexander Supertramp began as Christopher McCandless, who although always knew who he wanted to be, was lead to live a life of belief that success and money were who he was supposed to be.  He was well educated and knew this.  But at the same time he was not materialistic.  When he parents had offered to buy him a new car and to get rid of his piece of junk Nisan, he refused the offer, saying that it was just an object and he was fine with it.  Furthermore though he thought going on this adventure would help him become someone he thought he wanted to be. 

            Alex achieved self-actualization in an odd way.  Some would say that he did not perceive reality more efficiently than others, but some would say that he did.  This is one of the debates that lured over the story of Chris McCandless.  He saw that life was so much more than materialistic things and money.  He was very spontaneous in thought and behavior; the act of up and leaving everything behind and journeying to Alaska were spontaneous to say the least. 

            Alex displayed haptics of friendship towards most people he met.  He was very warm to most of them and gave hugs when he departed from them.  Most of his proxemics was of personal space, the 18 inch distance, with which specific interactions between McCandless and others had with one another.  Most of the time he was around people it was either in a vehicle or somewhere where they had to be close to each other, which perhaps caused for the close relationships that formed between Alex and the people he met.  As for his vocal dynamics, Alex spoke like he was well educated; very grown up and mature for the most part.

            Perhaps one could say that Christopher McCandless survived on his own throughout his journey, but up until he reached the wilderness, I do not think he would have survived with the communication and interaction he had with the key figures throughout the film.  Although they came in and out of his life, they helped get him through the detachment from society that he perhaps had not really escaped, but was able to find it on a more personal intimate level with people. 


IV. Recommendation

            Into the Wild was a very well put together novel and film, which Sean Penn did an excellent job of matching to the novel.  The character of Alexander Supertramp, who he became after he left Atlanta, Georgia, was captured and interpreted very well.  The dynamics and behavior of humans was not well interpreted, but presented, as this was a true story.  The events and relationships that were present before McCandless left everything was important in leading up to his decision to detach himself from society, and it is very relatable to many.  Everyday someone has to deal with the pressures of school, work, parents, and life in general.  Some just choose to deal with it differently.  Perhaps Chris just did what most people wish they could do: just up and leave everything and start over.  Although Alexander Supertramp had tried to detach himself from society, he just got to know it on a more personal level.  He may have been trying to survive on his own, but without the interactions he had had with all the key figures he came across in his journey, Alex would not have truly survived.  It was when he was in the wild, although he felt free, he was slowly dying.  He even reached the decision eventually to return to society, showing how every human needs to fulfill that third level of belonging.  Human behavior and the value of which it can have can be seen throughout the film.  The story of Christopher McCandless can teach us as humans to not take certain things or people for granted, and that leading lives of who we are not could lead to our own destruction.  But more importantly the story shows us how the communication or miscommunication between people is a significant part of our lives and how we do what we choose to do.


V. Bibliography

            Into the Wild.  Dir. Sean Penn.  With Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt,
                            Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, and Kristen Stewart, 2007.


            Krakauer, Jon.  Into the Wild.  New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

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