I don’t cry very often during movies…OK, that’s a lie but I don’t seriously break down and bawl my eyes out where I’m hiccuping because I’m crying so hard. The last time that happened was after I saw The Joy Luck Club. And I found myself in that same blubbery mess last night after watching Into the Wild.
Jon Krakauer’s book, upon which the movie was based, has been out for awhile now and most everyone knows the story of Christopher Mccandless (played by Emile Hirsch in the movie) so I won’t be giving anything away by saying he dies at the end. However, I won’t say how since I myself wasn’t familiar with that part of the story having never read the book.
I also wasn’t familiar with his adventures around America on his way to Alaska. A guy with no money and no possessions but the pack on his back and a travel bug that won’t be denied can run into a bunch of crazy characters on the road. Some played on screen by actors who are too famous to lose yourself in their characters, like Catherine Keener and Vince Vaughn. But others had to be real people, like the old man in the desert with the leathery skin and piercing eyes who rambled on about love. Or that weird Danish couple Mccandless ran into while kayaking to Mexico who were dancing to MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.”
But I fell in love will all of them and even Mccandless’ willful idealism. He did a lot of stupid things like jump into the rapids with a kayak and no experience whatsoever, cross the Mexican border with no ID and go into the Alaskan wilderness with limited equipment, no maps and, again, no experience whatsoever.
Where his idealism took him through many wonderful adventures, meeting many people and touching their lives, ultimately it also lead to his undoing.
But Mccandless did what I’m sure we all wish/wished we could do: set out in the world, on our own with nothing but our thirst for adventure. And where many people sneer at the stupidity of a young man for going off into a wilderness unprepared, the story told onscreen celebrates a life and in turn teaches us how to see a world outside our little bubble.
I think what really makes the story is the tragedy. I can’t stop thinking about how, like all tragedies, this, too, could have been prevented. If only he did this, if only he did that. I knew he was going to die but in the end I didn’t want him to. I wanted him to survive and write his story himself. Not hear it from the perspective of others. But then again, if he did survive, it probably wouldn’t have had the same impact.
In any case, I loved the movie and was touched by the story. Sure, there was a lot of voice-overs and it even made you do some reading by quoting right from Mccandless’ journals but it wasn’t too irritating. And the photography was awesome, capturing the most beautiful scenes and moments of America, looking very much like a combination of travelogue and nature documentary.
I don’t know if I could watch this again though, or even read about it for that matter. I was sooo depressed, I don’t know if I can go through all that again. But for those who are curious, Krakauer’s 1993 Outside Magazine article — which had generated more reader mail than any in the magazine’s history — can be found here. And you should see the movie.