Despite my misery, let me finish dinner

 

“There is no such thing as society”, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher once famously declared. This was a cry of capitalist individualism – polemical, to be sure, but true to her outlook. Others have found the opposite: that society is all too real, an oppressive nest of deceits and compromises best kept at arms length. The hermits of early Christianity sat upon columns in the desert for months on end, or retreated to caves far up in the mountains, to accomplish this. For many young people in modern times, freedom has been found in a similar (if less painful) isolation, in cutting the umbilical cord of civilization and all of its responsibilities and duties, and venturing across country in search of new experiences.

One such was Chris McCandless – compellingly played by Emile Hirsch in Sean Penn’s adaptation of Into the Wild, John Krakauer’s recounting of McCandless’s two-year adventure hitch-hiking and camping across early 1990s America. In his diary and his letters, as well as in conversations with the people he met on his travels, McCandless portrayed his adventure as an idealistic search for authenticity, a rejection of the shallow materialism of his parents and the hypocrisy and lies of contemporary society. Yet his romantic odyssey ended brutally in his death by starvation, brought on by mistakenly eating a poisonous root. He had spent a season camping in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan back country; his body was found two weeks later by moose hunters.

This marks the second recent biopic involving death in the Alaskan wilderness – the other being Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, which focused on Timothy Treadwell and his doomed attempt to live among and commune with Kodiak grizzly bears. After spending several summers creating self-narrated documentaries about the bears he shadowed, Treadwell and his girlfriend were torn to pieces and partially consumed by one of his subjects. There is a certain amount of consumer demand, it seems, for stories that depict the awesome beauty of nature, and its equally awesome ability to kill us. And while for Canadians almost any place more than one hundred miles north of one of our cities serves as our own potentially lethal wilderness (black bears wander across the doorsteps of Canadian summer cottages with some frequency), for Americans – whose continental states seem almost completely interlaced with roads and railways, a town occupying every grid square on the map – it is the state of Alaska that has assumed the lonely role of High Representative of the Untouched American Wild.

As Penn’s film shows, finding true solitude and complete independence isn’t easy in modern America. McCandless starts out in a battered Datsun, which he soon loses to a flash flood in the desert. He burns all the money in his pocket, and starts hitch-hiking instead, becoming a “leather tramp” – as Catherine Keener’s sad and soulful hippie dubs him. Yet while he manages to acquire enough meals from the people he meets, the need for money doesn’t vanish, and he finds himself working odd jobs: driving a combine harvester owned by a farmer/entrepreneur played enthusiastically by Vince Vaughan, or flipping burgers at MacDonalds. He even hovers, momentarily tempted, at a Los Angeles welfare hotel, but when finally assigned a bed senses the psychological trap and breaks free again, returning to the road. Yet civilization doesn’t seem to want to let him go. Kayaking down the Colorado River, he finds its end in an artificial delta of concrete canals. More than once, he looks up at a clear blue sky marred by a commerial airliner blazing contrails behind itself.

When he finally reaches Alaska, keen to start his “great Alaskan adventure”, he bums a ride to the end of a remote road and accepts the effectively permanent loan of a pair of sturdy rubber boots from the truck driver. McCandless plods through the back country, fords a river, and discovers a “magic bus” abandoned on a bluff. He moves in, and promptly begins civilizing the nearby wilderness, carving hunting trails to and from the bus and building an outdoor shower for himself. The human instinct to impose order on nature’s anarchy is strong within him – he may be escaping civilization, but he’s bringing it with him, too.

In Alaska, McCandless comes face to face with an authenticity of the most physical kind. Only modestly successful as a hunter – he manages to shoot a moose once, then loses all of is meat to putrescence and maggots – he steadily eats his way through his supply of rice. With the coming of spring he is trapped by rising waters that make his winter ford impassable. Meanwhile, large game vanishes in its migratory way, and he is reduced to stamping his feet in frustration and yelling at the empty landscape, “Where are all the fucking animals!? I’m fucking hungry!!!”

This is authenticity. Stripped to our essence, we are animals, and we need to eat. At the most savage level of existence, our hunger is what drives our waking lives and fills our dreams. It is authenticity, but it is not nobility, nor is it philosophy or poetry. These things require surpluses, enough food and shelter to see us through many days of life, to allow us to devote time to thinking, reading, conversation. This is the trade that civilization offers: hypocrisy and compromise in exchange for culture and comfort and time to be fully human, rather than merely animal.

In the ancient world, men knew this truth, perhaps better than we. After being shipwrecked in the sea for days, Homer’s Odysseus describes the overwhelming power of hunger as he dines with the gracious Phaeacian king:

… I could tell a tale of still more hardship,
all I’ve suffered, thanks to the gods’ will.
But despite my misery, let me finish dinner.
The belly’s a shameless dog, there’s nothing worse.
Always insisting, pressing, it never lets us forget –
destroyed as I am, my heart racked with sadness,
sick with anguish, still it keeps demanding,
“Eat, drink!” It blots out all the memory
of my pain, commanding, “Fill me up!”
– The Odyssey, Book 7 (trans. Robert Fagles)

Like Into the Wild, the Odyssey is a picaresque of a lone hero’s wanderings, and of the ways he is helped or harmed by the people he meets along the way. But while McCandless with his wanderings is trying to escape society, Odysseus is trying desperately to return to it, to his home and family, to his rightful kingdom, to comfort and peace. Of course, while Odysseus is the wiser of the two, he learned this wisdom the hard way: by going off to war as a younger man and spending a decade fighting it and another decade trying to complete his journey home. Who’s to say that when Odysseus first boarded his ship to Troy, that his mind and heart weren’t more than a little like Chris McCandless’s? Odysseus was lucky to survive his war, and to have time to grow wise. McCandless died just as his own adventure, cruel as it had become, had begun to teach him something.

Chris McCandless and his magic bus

58 thoughts on “Despite my misery, let me finish dinner

  1. I first heard of Chris’ adventure through Eddie Vedders song Hard Sun (which is playing in the background right now). Than I found out it was for a movie and than I started looking for info. about it than I found your blog on it. Courage. This is the only word that comes to mind after learning about this mans journey. I wish I had known this man and taken this journey with him. Its unfrotunate that he is gone and that his story comes to life after he is gone. I have not seen the movie yet but I feel like I know this mans story already. I cant help crying when I think of this mans courage and lonliness and dying on his own with no one their at his side. Only time will tell the impact that this mans story will have on our society but it has moved me like no other story has. Thank you Sean Penn for sharing this mans life with us…God Bless and keep you Chris McCandless.

  2. I saw the movie, and the reference to Odysseus is facinating. I worked in Alaska during the late 90s, a the local could never make sense out of McCandless’ misadventure. THe first time I heard about it, one of my coworkers there talked about “some kid from outside (local dialect, meaning,”outside of Alaska”) was found dead living in an old bus out in the middle of nowhere.” Alaskans look at their wilderness differently than the rest of us. They respect it. You’ll see bumper stickers saying, “Visit Alaska and become part of the food chain”, or some would refer to their dogs as “bear bait”, meaning that by bringing a dog along while hiking, should you be attacked by a bear, most dogs will aggress towards the bear, making them easy prey, and while the bear is busy eating your dog, you can make a run of it.
    I, on the other hand, saw the poetry in McCandless’ ordeal. I would have liked to go along with him in the lower 48, but I personally handled Alaska differently. I learned from the locals first, and respected their wisdom. I miss Alaska. The restaurants were pricey and often sucked, but the attitude of the people was pretty cool, and the scenery was like nothing else on earth.
    Lookin4space

  3. I watched this movie last night and haven’t been able to shake since. Its end makes me so sad for this heroic soul. Although he was one of the bravest, he found himself ultimately scared and lonely while on a journey through the Alaskan wilderness. If only he had someone at his bedside when he died, maybe his parents who he, in the end, grew to forgive, as the sun shined down on his face. He realized that “happiness is real when shared”…. and smiled in the brightness of its strength. People need people, no matter how fucked up society can be. Although you may feel trapped and disappointed in the way we treat each other, pick and choose those around you, no one wants to die alone.

    I love you Chirstopher McCandless, the sun will now shine on you forever.

  4. I am 7 years older than Chris. After watching the movie I tried to think where I was when he died in 1992. I am sure I was busy being a new mom. I tried to pause in that year, although many, many miles apart and unknown to him, I feel that he is / was part of family, God’s family, that wants to seek out life at its simplest level. I read about Chris as a school boy bringing home a homeless man to sleep in his parent’s trailer. What a kind heart. I admire that. I am sorry that Chris is not here today (I wonder what else he would have done), but I am not sad about where I think he is – in heaven – living in a land of beauty and kindness beyond compare.
    John 15:13

  5. After watching the movie I completely understand where he was coming from. The pressure of growing up is great, success is measured by wealth. You live to work instead of living. I spent many summers as a youth and adult heading off into the wilderness backpacking, fishing, hiking only to return to the rat race. The solitude alone in the mountains is great and does wonders for stress relief, it helps you find yor self and is a good reality check. But McCandless had it right happiness is better spent with someone. Being simple living within your means and having respect and appreciating the things you have in life is what I saw McCandless wanting. My 18 year old son introduced me to the movie, It was a great movie and I would recommend it to all teenagers. Work to live, enjoy the time you have, do something and see something you haven’t seen or done.

  6. I must say, to me the most powerful part of the movie was when christipher wrote the book he was reading, “Happiness isn’t real unless shared with some else”.. I am not certain if that is exact but its the basic idea. It is the realization that after all basic human needs are fullfilled we are not complete untill we don’t feel a sense of connection with each other. very powerful… sad movie but good..

  7. I have to say that as a father my heart was broken, not only for this young mans journey that ended before he had a chance to really use the life lessons that he had learned, but even more so for the loved ones that he abandoned along the way. The journey itself was one of courage, risk and adventure, but it also created stress, misery and heatache for everyone else. While I understand the reasons for his quest, let’s not lose sight that it was also a selfish act that in the end was a loss for everyone.

  8. What a heartbreak…….as a father I was crushed by his unwillingness to at least contact his family to let them know he was alive. Watching him suffer alone was beyond sad as a parent. A selfish act to say the least. This was a very dark and sad movie, but man was it good. I will hug my daughters a little harder today.

  9. I was so drawn to this story by Eddie Vedder’s music, what an amazing hold he seemed to have grasped when writing the original music for the movie. And once again Sean Penn reaches out and brings to life in picture and sound the words of an amazing story.
    McCandless’s story leaves me torn with feelings of longing for my early 20’s where I had the bravado and tenacity to run the world and see it’s adventures. Then in another direction to the anguish for all the suffering and mental illness abuse brings our society; and finally to an utter desperate cry of “What a Waste!!!”
    I watched the movie for the first time only last night and I am burdened with sadness and an illogical crippling desire to save this child. I can hear the crys of my soul , “Save this boy!!!” and I am so desperately sad that I can not and that no one can. What horrors are left in the wake of his mistakes and from what I can see from the story, mistakes he too wished he could save himself from. If he had finally found the peace he longed for to return to his family… …I cry out to God, was this boy saved and brought home to you? Did his search end in trusting in you? Did his parents find peace and oh how brave they were to take part in this story!! Did his sister go on and find love and build a new relationship with her parents?
    Part of me wishes I had not watched the movie. Not because it was not beautiful or because I long for some sort ignorance but because my heart as a mother of sons is broken for these people. This even as I am so proud at his ability to walk away from what this very noisy society is, and search for freedom, true freedom on earth.
    I wonder how wonderful it would have been if he could have made it home, been found a little earlier, not eaten the wrong food. How wonderful his presence in the world would be now, what amazing things could have been done……I too hold my sons closer and behaved just a little more carefully as their mother today!!

  10. I just saw the movie yesturday for the 1st time and again this morning.
    You are all making hthis out to be something more than it is. The movie is my favorite, dont get me wrong. But I did almost all the things Christopher did, just not Alaska.
    I had bad parents too, left when I was 20 after 1 year of college and left with no destination. I was in south dakoda the same time he was, missed him in the grand canyon by two years, missed him in reno by one year.
    My point is, I dropped of the face of the earth for 5 or 6 years, and did all that stuff, nobody wants to meet me. Im not doing wonderful things for people. I am back in society though and have been a radio dj for a few years.
    Anybody can have the experience we had, Its easier than living in society, and you dont have to be a dirty bum doing it.
    I always wanted to write my story, but Its too similar to”Into The Wild” so I probably wont now. I love movies when you can relate to them, but this was shocking to me how close it was to what I did, I just made it out alive. Had close calls though, I rafted down the Colorado river, had to climb out. I almost fell and died there. It was me or my backpack full of equiptment, I let the backpack go and broke my brand new water purifier.
    Well sorry if im rambling, just had to say something, thanks, Thom

  11. I just watched the movie tonight for the first time! I really wanted to see when it first came out but, it was for a reason that I didn’t. I watched it with my mother (she already watched it two times) and I had to see it with her. It was perfect, for those 3 hours we shared so many emotions and felt the freedom that Chris had shared with us trough this movie. He died for all of us to see the beauty, the power, the love, and most of all the freedom. I really think that this reallity of us all being or becoming so tired of all the caous,pettiness,and disillusions of our society. Should not be feared or ignored, but changed with paitence, kindness and compassion from all people and for all people.I can only hope for my life that I can find as much courage in my soul to go out and find the true meanings of life that Christopher McCandless (AKA Alex Supertramp) did!

  12. The movie — yes, it is quite poetic and romantic and all the other wonderful adjectives you’ve all heaved upon it. I greatly enjoyed it.

    The truth — Chris McCandless did something very dumb by attempting to surive in the Alaskan wilderness without proper training. He essentially insulted the environment by pompously assuming he could defeat it.

    The story of “Alexander Supertramp” is great for Hollywood. We all feel inspired seeing someone break away from society and be so unconventional. The flip side is that he made a lot of poor decisions and was fairly ignorant of his surroundings, despite all his posturing.

    Celebrate the film, celebrate the beauty of McCandless’ words but remember the truth of his actions.

  13. MAN I SALUTE YOU !!!!!!!

    WHATERVER HE DONE WAS AWSOME AND AMAZING ” I REALLY SALUTE TO THE REAL GUY AFTER CHE GUEVARA !

    KEEP ROCKING ALEX!

  14. I watched the movie two days ago and I’m still spell-binded by what I saw. Amazing, truly amazing story. I think all of us at some point think of giving society the finger and heading off into the woods, but few actually go through with it. I had never read the book, so I was pretty upset with the ending, but I saw the beauty after sitting quietly for a few minutes as the credits ran. The live to work/work to live conflict is one that I wrestle with every morning. My advice to all: live life to the fullest extent you can, and never settle for less than you want.

  15. Hey Tom, I would LOVE to hear your story. It would be really cool to hear the story from the person who actually lived it and not from teh perspective of others who can only imagine what the kid was going through and feeling. But I’m glad you got out alive to tell it.

    Linda

  16. Logan…..
    Don’t insult McCandless by comparing him to or putting him on the same level as a murderous, guerilla militant like Che.
    McCandless rejected the confines of society and government. Which I’m sure incudes communism.

  17. The narration of chris’s sister in the movie where she is speaking of fine crystal is one of the most poingant parts of Chris’s story I feel. Its a hard concept for some to grasp but I do believe that with all the dynamics of characters in the world there are those that are the ultra sensitive like chris who found his solace in reflection and thought in solitude. I feel he just would have simply been beautiful to the core and really one of those angels of the earth. His story has been found and told for a reason, all for a reason my friends! The film has not been made for glorification purposes, hence the reason it took the family 10 years to grant Sean Penn’s desire to tell his story. And who better really? A triumph in film making, because just looking over all the emotions evoked in these comments is what chris’s quest was about for him too. Buddist monks spend hours a day in silence and solitude as they believe self reflection makes one’s soul more pure and closer to divine understanding of the earths great plan and whats wrong with that? Nothing I think. For me as moved to tears as I was for Chris in seeing this film, I also feel the immense strength of character he must have had in those final moments. To have had regrets I’m sure for his loved ones left behind and decisions made, and come to terms with all that in the eye of his own mortality alone in the wild, leaving behind such serene sentiments can only but call for pause, yes? Chris’s story is just such a beautiful showing of the strength in the human soul if it is of pure intention, which I feel he was. Ironically with no desire to be anything special he just couldnt really help it. Thats beautiful! Because now the beauty of his soul is immortal. To be incredibly sensitive to the earth and its natural beauty yet demonstrate the great strength of our species in mind and body is the ultimate show of the human resolve and chris is just one embodiment of this. This story will lift others for a long time to come.

  18. It’s interesting to read people’s views on Chris McCandless. But it seems to me that those same individuals are imposing their own theories on this kid.

    First of all, Eddie Vedder never wrote Big Hard Sun. It’s a remake. Second of all, everyone needs to get off the Christian horse and spare us. Save your bible passages for the other sheep.

    If the kid hated society, one can most likely deduce that he also hated religion which is clearly man made and has ruined everything natural thus creating society.

    Lastly- this blog was probably the best I have read on the subject. Kudos to the writer for nailing it. It’s a shame everyone commenting was commenting on a MOVIE which is an idealized version of events.

    Chris McCandless was selfish and full of himself- chalk it up to youth. He made mistakes, he learned from them. It has often been suggested that he was suffering from schizophrenia- a psychiatric illness that often manifests itself around the age Chris McCandless was.

    Not too many rational people spout off about “killing the false being within.”

  19. I watched the movie last night. I knew nothing of the story.I ended up watching the movie becouse i saw a couple other movies Emile Hirsch was in, and liked them.I have to to say i have thought about the movie all day. The soundtrack was perfect for it. I was searching the net for information about the soundtrack when i came across this sight. It looks like alot of you were moved by this story. I think many people can relate to it one way or another.I am the same age as chris and have met a select few who were a lot like him. None of them are still around. I mean they come in and out of your life in an instant, but leave a life lasting memory of themselves. I think it was best said by his sister telling the story about finding him blocks away from his home in the middle of the night when he was 3. People like this cant stay in one place long. They are deep in intelligence and need to spread their wings. When i was in my early twenties i felt a strong need to move toward the mountains, but never did. Some people can act on those feelings,and some can’t. Society while stressful for one is security for others. Although bad decisions and circumstances led to a tragic and sad end, I envy the courage chris had to go on his journey.

  20. Just finished watching the movie.

    As a parent I was anxious through out the movie for Alex not contacting his parents. I felt strongly that this was a young man with a significant mental health issue. What else would explain his complete selfishness,self absorption and his lack of empathy ? I didn’t like his character in the movie, perhaps in real life he was a more complex man, I found his movie character to be shallow and immature. I was angry at him for breaking his mothers heart. My prayers go to this family.

  21. I just finished watching Into the Wild…I wipe my tears away thinking this beautiful young man seemed loved by all. My education is in Psychology, so I can’t help but think, was he beggining to develop a mental illness, possibly schizophrenic? What I saw was a young man trying to abandon society but often had to come back to the societal norms to make money for food. Is it possible to live out in the wild today as one of G-ds creations or have we evolved so much that we can no longer go back to our “natural” state. I will think of Christopher and pray for his family.

  22. I can’t quite explain why my emotional response to this movie, and my following research on mccandless, has been so powerful. I too was a wanderer in my late teens and early20’s, but in a much different way. I came from an extremely messed up broken family, ending my teen years a in foster home, stuggling to survive, and cant associate with how mccandless naively gave away/burnt his money. Only someone born into wealth could do something this stupid but undenialably poetic and strangely noble. Such a pardox, so tough and so willling to follow a strict self-imposed moral code, yet charming and earnest enough enough to provoke such strong feeelings from people he met in his living years and many, many more from resulting publicity of his story after he died. I wish that his story ended happily, that he could have survived to share the knowledge he lived and learned, but therein lies the rub. If he lived through his alaskan adventure, none of us would ever known his story. If he could have had seen the future and realized the impact of his life and death had on so many, he would not have changed a thing.

  23. thom, you are so way off comparing your saga to Chris McCandless’s. So far off that you don’t even understand what he was about or what the movie portrayed. And if you didn’t go to Alaska than your experience was no where near his. I’m thankful that Chris shared his thoughts and experience’s with us and I wish I had been one of the people who was fortunate enough to have met him and experienced the profound effect he had on others through hin insight. Chris went to seek life and although he died, he found what he was looking for; it does’t appear that’s why you struck out nor does it seem like you learned anything.

  24. Watching this movie was eerie for me, it was as though I was viewing a piece of my own life. In March 1991, my boyfriend and I sold our cars, furniture, and anything else we could find for a buck left Virginia, and began our own adventure that was also inspired by Jack London and a youthful ignorance or idealism, your perception I believe depends upon your age & maturity. Destination? Alaska, live off the land, homestead, build a cabin and only go into the civilized world for supplies as needed.

    Like Chris, we traveled extensively through the lower 48, camping for 8 months, seeing the country and working when needed. We met fantastic people who made impressions that have lasted these 16 years that have transpired. We also studied, and studied and studied a bit more. Anything and everything we could to teach us about living in the Alaskan wilderness, and bought whatever we thought we may need to sustain us.

    We made it to Alaska near Christmas and lived in Sitka (island in Southeast Alaska) until warmer weather. We eeked out an existance in the bush until Spring of 1993. Starvation was not an issue, but isolation, terror and warmth were serious issues. Alaskan winters are nothing to take lightly, and the lack of civilization after so many months is down right terrifying to a degree it is difficult to explain. After that winter, I was done and headed for Anchorage. My boyfriend headed back East. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but I understand Chris and his motivation. You DO find yourself when it is just you and the elements. But Alaska is much different than “down south” you MUST prepare. I cannot imaging doing it on my own, or anyone doing it on their own. You need someone with you who can pull you back from the brink when it gets to be too much, and someone you can rely on to think when you can’t. Even with my boyfriend, I felt utterly alone and isolated, it is frightening, but in it’s own way, it is freeing too.

    Chris was here at the same time we were in the bush, and in many other places we visited/passed through on our way here. I would have loved to have met him, but it was not meant to be. Same experience, different outcome. I feel such a connection with him, we were here at the same time, we are the same age, from the same area, it’s just uncanny. I had heard the stories about the guy who died in the bus near Denali, but never really paid much attention to it. Until recently. I wish we could have helped him.

    I now live in a small town in Alaska with my husband and two kids. That girl has grown up, but this movie touched me enormously.

  25. It is interesting to see you glorify Chris McCandless the same way Sean Penn did in the movie.

    I first heard of Chris when I ventured north to Alaska for somewhat similar reasons, just two years after his death. I’d finished one year of law school and saw the summer of ’98 as a last gasp of pre-career freedom, so I applied for a job at the Denali National Park, which borders the area where he died. As the movie accurately depicts, the landscape is breathtaking. While there, one of my coworkers told me about Chris’s story, after having read Krakauer’s novel. That coworker hiked the trail to the bus that summer, as hundreds have apparently now done ever since.

    I feel ambivalent about Chris McCandless, having a mixture of sympathy and disdain for his story. I admired him more for what he went through upon learning that he had in fact attempted to come back to civilization and wanted to live. Otherwise, his act of disappearing without caring what his loving sister or parents would go through was incredibly selfish. His recklessly stumbling into the Alaskan wilderness without proper equipment, tools or skills was arrogant. Selfishness and fatal arrogance are not the characteristics of a “hero” according to my view of the world. A hero would have taken account of his painful experiences as a child but also been thankful for being gifted with a college education that he could use to live a fruitful life, even a charitable life giving to others if so inclined. A hero would care about the feelings of those who loved him the most. But if I sound harsh in my judgment of him, it should also be said that he was just a 23 year old kid. He probably thought he knew more than he really did, which is true of so many of us at that age.

    The best I can say for Chris is that his story and his tragic death have very deep and meaningful lessons for us all. I’m sorry he could not survive to apply those lessons himself.

  26. Chris McCandless life and story is awesome. What courage he had. I agree it was wrong for him to not let his parents know he was safe. He mades some mistakes and died alone in the wilderness on a old bus. However, his courage was remarkable to return to the bus, ill and weak, and prepare himself for the end.
    The story moves us as we ask ourselves, what if that was me in the bush? Could I have made my way out, and if not, what would the terror of death be like? Is it any different than a cancer patient, dieing alone in a hospice or an elderly father dieing in a nursing home due to a self-imposed starvation?
    Chris was bright, educated, articulate, handsome, and from a upper-middle class family. He had all the ingredients of a young person preparing to have a successful life. He just was not ready for an typical life.
    How many of us were not ready. I remember heading west after my 1979 college graduation. However, I headed for the cities and tried to find a job. I was not looking forward to joining the real economic world, and it took approx 2 years before I could settle in and accept that I would have to do ordinary jobs for the next 40 years of my life. Here I am 51 now, fed up and as disappointed with society as I was before I entered it after school in 1979. How many of you feel the same way I do? Who can say that Chris would have been happy if he had gotten through it all? Many of us have been searching for happiness for 30 and 40 years and still have not found it.

  27. Obviously, he leaves more questions than answers. This is a complicated and powerful story. I haven’t seen the movie though I have read the book. While I was reading it, I felt a deep sadness and grief for the parents. The outcome for me was, we give birth to our children, but we don’t own them. No matter what good intentions parents have in raising their children, those children have a mind of their own. They will seek their own autonomy in ways that can be heartbreaking. For most of us, our lessons are generally learned the hard way, but we live to redeem ourselves and pass them on. It is unfortunate for the parents and his sister that this young man did not survive to prevent them from life long grief.

    In the book, his last note read: I have had a happy life and thank the lord. Goodbye and may God bless all.

    I am not a parent, but I feel for his parents and I wonder if this note was really enough.

  28. I just watched Into the Wild. I was interested in the film because it portrays a real person, and places an important issue squarely on the table: what is humankind’s real place in nature? Like Grizzly Man, another true and sadly similar account, Chris McCandless thought that he could match the intensity of the natural world with his book-fed understanding and worldly expectations/interpretations; in fact, the only way to truly understand and live in a natural state is to simply BE a part of it. As other’s have pointed out, McCandless brought the world he understood with him, and when he failed, it was because he really was utterly unprepared for the natural world he sought. I won’t comment on his apparent callous disregard for those who assisted and cared for him along the way, which can be blamed on youth and upbringing; I’ll leave that to the psychoanalysts. But the one thing I am certain of is that this young man’s death was caused primarily by his arrogance in approaching the natural world he so craved, yet totally underestimated and misunderstood. May he rest in peace, finally.

  29. I think to dismiss Chris as a foolish youth is to ignore the value of his experiences. His self-belief may have shaded into arrogance, but in this day an age, a mind that can believe that such a wonderful journey is possible is a special one.

    Chris states in the film that to accept that human life can be ruled by reason destroys the possibility of that life. Those who criticise him for not looking at the facts and giving up on his adventure don’t seem to acknowledge the truth of that statement. There is nothing more oppressive than the supposed ‘cold hard facts’ of life. The constant inner-doubt instilled in people by society is one of the great plagues of a young mind full of potential. That inner voice that tells you to be careful, get a career, earn enough money, settle down soon, guard your belongings, fear strangers, avoid danger or too much excitement… well that voice is the voice of reason, and when spoken quietly and calmly, it is useful and informative, but when channeled through the deafeningly loud voice of society, it is crushing. It destroys. Creativity, inspiration, individuality, spontaneity, hope. All the things that make life truly beautiful. Rigid adherence to ‘rationality’ inhibits them all.

    I think his parents’ way of living life and their expectations for him had a massive impact on Chris. They lived in fear with the rest of their kind and forced him and his sister to ‘close off’ from the possibility of escape…

    His response, certainly fueled by rebellion and anger, but beneficial nonetheless, was to go to the opposite extreme – face all his fears – charge at the waters that threatened him, face the ‘blind deaf stone’ alone, so that he could know what true fear was, and know that he could walk the hardest, most irrational, unstable path… and see where it took him. Eventually, he learned that one need not walk in total isolation, and once he had cultivated fearlessness, he wanted to return and test it amongst other people… unfortunately, it was too late for him.

    Chris’s journey was extreme, and I don’t doubt that the feelings that sparked that journey were extreme also. I do not think that the actions Chris took were the only solution (or the best) to the problems he felt within himself and within society, but that does not mean we should disregard his incredible bravery, and the important lessons which he did learn before his death – the truths he was searching for are ones we all seek to find, but many of us don’t have the courage to reach out for them.

    At various moments in the film, Chris says, in different ways to different people, that if they want something in life, they should reach out and grab it. Not in the greedy, fearful and pride-fuelled sense of capitalist society, but in the sense of experience, self-knowledge, self-expansion and love. That is an important message, that those too concerned with what is ‘rational’ could miss.

    I am, certainly, placing my own ‘idealistic’ view of Chris onto his life. I am sure he was more complex, more conflicted, more afraid, than the film of his life suggests. But actions speak louder than words, and the actions he took and the direction he followed, inspire the same feelings that Sean Penn’s film so poignantly expresses. A human life is not a single, coherent narrative, and that is what people will take from this film… but as a clear and simple truth is what Chris seemed to be searching for, in his reading, his writing and his living, I don’t think that he would mind.

  30. Mr Mason – what an excellent post! And great comments too – clearly “Into the Wild” inspires people. It is interesting that so many people see themselves in Chris, surely a mark of a durable and useful myth. Hero? Chris’s story tracks along the prototypical myth: crisis, existing knowledge can’t solve the crisis, the hero must journey (inner journey or external) to find the answer, the answer is dramatically revealed, usually after a battle or struggle….. in Chris’s case, he gets his answer in the depths of his starvation and sickness. “happiness only real when shared.” We need these stories. We need rights of passage. We need meaning. We need to feel connection to something greater than ourselves. Modern western society has eviscerated our soul and young people look at their expected future with horror and dread, knowing that something in them must die in order to work the 9-5, open an IRA, live in a subdivision with the monopoly houses, pay their registration fees, and surrender their freedom. Even for those of us who do find a way to live outside of the mean, the grinding predictability and safety of daily life wears at one’s vitality and slowly, we slide into a stupor. And in moments of quiet we wonder if this is it, if this is what it means to live. I don’t think Chris was “mentally ill.” That’s the easy way out. I think Chris was a regular guy who had a third eye that was open. He asked, even as a 3 year old kid, “is this it?” (hence the journey to the neighbor’s candy drawer) and he knew it wasn’t. Chris died knowing he had lived. How many of us can say that? Obviously, most of us are shocked by the selfishness of his actions and the brutal life sentence he gave his loved ones, but I will say that he probably died knowing he screwed up and his notes reflect his growing empathy and respect for the blessing of “people.” In the beginning of the movie, Chris rejected things, things, things, but he also rejected people. He thought he could find meaning on his own terms and on his own and rejected much of the wisdom, kindness and guidance of many good people along the way, that is, until the end. I agree with one of the previous posts – young people in particular need to see this movie. They need to know they are normal and not “mentally ill” simply because they feel like this society is sick and empty. And if they can share in Chris’s epiphany without having to die of starvation, all the better.

  31. I have just seen “into the wild” and find it a great movie/story. Before the movie, I didn’t knew the story at all. So I was shocked to find out the movie was based on a real story (I’m going to read the book as well).

    I think many people can find themselves in Chris. Many people are fed up with the materialistic world where money is the most important thing in the world. I wouldn’t say its wise to travel and never come back, but a “short” trip may open your eyes and makes you look differently to life.

    Also…I think the movie/story tells us that life is short. Chris was just in his 20s when he died, knowing he had lived…with no regrets. Honestly, I dont think a lot of people can say that…not in their 20s, 30s, 40s and so on.

    So…Great story, Great movie, Great Job…make people think and reflect on their own lives and the world.

  32. I find people’s replies on here puzzling. Hero? It is absolutely tragic that McCandless did what he did to his family, his friends and, more importantly, himself. He was given life. Life should be charished. But to cherish life does not require you to sit in a safe house, enmeshed in the potentially poisonous society and working a boring 9-5 job.

    It’s interesting to see how many people mention this scenario for modern man or even themselves. Okay, things are potentially really bad. But you can do better. Go hiking/camping on the weekends. Live in a cabin like one poster mentioned. Work in Denali (Ive done this) for an outdoor company, get some money and camp around Alaska. This is life! Seriously, people always down on the industrial revolution but have no idea about life before the niceties and comforts of life. Have you looked at your toilet recently? Indoor plumbing is one of the BEST inventions (millions of past humans are in agreement on this one). Unfortunately, it seems that due to McCandless’ environment, he saw the excesses of superficiality. When he revolted against this lifestyle, he showed, as I could have shown or many of my friends (who have done almost the identical thing as Chris), that nature is a spiritual place and things are just, well, things. One should seek nature, not things, for its mystery and mystical powers. To create these experiences, however, it takes time, effort, planning and, depending on the activity, some serious will power. But we’re lazy. It’s easier to sit at home; just think about the last time you went to the gym.

    I’m pontificating, sure. Im not done yet though. Bear with me because I think my perspective is quite different from the others here. So what McCandless did was to suggest a more natural way to all of us who go to the movies to experience life and relaxation. Think of it. Here we are zombiewalking our lives in monotony. And it happens! Even when you’re trying to avoid it. Man it’s hard. But there you go, and then one day you’ll come across a movie like this that is far off the mainstream Hollywood highway. It’ll target your desire to “break free” from routine and get your primal need for adventure. Just notice how many times he says “freedom” in the movie. These things rile something primitive in us; and rarely do we get a movie on that.

    But the movie, we have to admit, is completely ridiculous in its depiction of McCandless’ behavior. At the end he’s smiling before he dies. Seriously? He was 67 pounds when he was found. He was near emergency supplies. And he starved to death with a main highway 30 miles away. This is a complete deviation of life that it boggles the mind. Almost all human industry is geared to supply our wants and needs. And we want to run away from it, dabble in the woods and die of starvation without a map?

    Like Grizzly Man, people make up excuses for rash judgment. Tim? Oh, well everything was fine for him with the usual bears. But that one, yeah, that one right there was the mean bear, Mr. Nasty. There was something wrong with that one. But this is the whole point. Exigencies are the essence of the wild! This is why preparation is key.

    Here’s a personal experience, hope you dont mind. I was in Alaska and did some Kyaking out of Valdez harbor and camped in the wild. I discarded maps and a compass. What happened? I saw some bears, ran out of food, was caught in a gale storm and nearly got hypothermia. Then I realized I was lost among some islands. Where the hell was the mainland? The feeling of primal desperation came like a wave. Up to that point, things were fine. But man, once my life force was threatened, the primal instinct took over and it was a serious struggle against the anti-me. You will never know what Im talking about untill it happens to you personally.

    This is why I find it insulting to see Penn show the closing scene. There he is, smiling as he succumbs to death. It’s anti-life to depict the situation like that. It’s a lie. And we should condemn such things. He died for no reason. Either he knew it or he didnt; both are equally blameworthy. Sure he lived a struggle, but to struggle against something for no reason is as courageous as killing an intruder who turns out to be a friend. Or to deliberate about a course of action without relevent information; the conclusion will be wrong no matter what no matter how happy you appear to be. I think it’s heartbreaking to see a confused human invert the very life he was given and is celebrated. Since when did we celebrate some real philanthropists? Please, live your life: this movie was a celebration of confusion and spite.

  33. This movie is almost as funny the second time as the first.

    You all are pretty stupid to encourage and glamorize this type of behavior. Now others will die trying to do the same.

    He was a spoiled little know it all who thought he could survive in the wilderness. He couldn’t!! Turns out, he was too lazy to even read the plant book correctly and I guess couldn’t fish either. Oh yeah… and there’s the moose he wasted. I knew kids like him in school. This guy was a choad and Sean Penn should be ashamed of himself for trying to make it look cool.

    It did have a certain Hertzog (sp?) quality with the irony and the stupid ego of the child with romanticized notions of what society “should be” — to him. Also, the beautiful pictures of Alaska were stunning and very Hertzog. His photography, eye or style is not what I question. It’s his integrity. Just like that kid… its phony. It’s a “show” of ego – nothing more and therefore all of Penn’s and McCandless’s statements whether on paper, celluloid, wood or otherwise mean anything. After all, the kid just quoted other writers and didn’t “do” anything but die needlessly and selfishly. What a waste all around!

  34. what i find just as thought provoking as the movie is the varied and conflicting opinions in this blog. that is what makes his experience so magical, that as an individual he had the choice, the freedom , the intention, the will and he did exactly as he wanted. that in itself is heroic considering the expectations of american youth. i have teenagers, and an adult daughter, and i still don’t know what i want to be when i grow up. but to delve bravely into an experience, blind and open, and to go forward determined to follow-through and not give in or give up when it got difficult, challenging or long and hard, is enough to inspire anyone. that he was selfish, we only say that because so many of us spend our live conforming to the expectations and comforts of middle class suburbia, me included, but only because for me, i am responsible for raising 2 more children and there are laws… but when i am successful in providing for them to the age of self sufficiency, i intend to continue my adventure. selfish, no, i have every right to no longer deny myself out of ‘heroic’ sacrifices i have made for the care and comfort of my children all these years. some people go buy new things, cars, boats, houses, i want to live and work on a river in the desert, live in a camper… walk, read, paint and breathe, float the river and keep company with those who love the sky… the stars, the moon… life is meant to be lived to the fullest and why do we impose so much acquiring of stuff to make it meaningful, or acceptable? i envy Chris, he was brave and simple, courageous and brilliant. our lives are not just what we see here on this planet, his life had a purpose and he was gifted to have been chosen to live this adventure for us to see. it is an inspiration beyond any of our real comprehension…

  35. Mary – i was very dissapointed to read your entry saying that you ‘didnt like the movie’ and was angry with him for breaking his mothers heart’ Didnt you see from the movie/book how bad life was for him AND HIS SISTER WHO AGREES THAT THINGS WERE VERY TOUGH growing up??

    this movie was not made for ‘entertainment purposes’ it was to tell a story, quite accurately about one mans life. He may have seemed so called shallow but perhaps you werent thinking of how he was conditioned to push away most things that all of us need on a day to day basis. Chris was highly intelligent, someone that wasnt wouldnt be able to do what he did and survive on his own. He didnt steal to survive. How could you go without any money could you survive? I know i coudnt…..

    I doubt you grew up in a house where the two people that gave life to you, destroyed your heart by being physically and verbally abusive to each other and putting you down – i dont think you know what this can do to a persons soul.

    I do. I havent ever left society the way that Chris did but i can completely understand why he did. When your parents dont love you ‘properly’ you are damaged, not everyone, but some. severely – like me.

    He did not do this to upset his parents, he just wanted to be free of everyone, i am sure he probably thought he couldnt hurt himself hence wanting to be alone and that he didnt need anyone. yes, he did hurt himself but thinking he could survive out there longer than he did….

    Sadly yes, he perhaps realised too late that what he did want was them, his parents. To love him and share his life with them. He probably wanted to say sorry but it was too late….

    It angered me to hear you say that you think he was selfish.

    In my own past, my parents called me selfish too.

    Was i selfish to be so depressed, because i felt no one cared and i hated my life, i tried to kill myself by overdose? Or was it my mother and father that were selfish to be so angry with me for TWO days, whilst i could have died, (in fact i should have my test results showed that i should have died 7 hours later) that it took that time to come to me and actually show she was so worried about me. I am mentally scarred by this to this day, 16 years after it happened. I am not mentally ill or schziophrenic merely a kid wanting to be loved my parents.

    Parents are responsible for showing and giving love to their children, to nurture them and have UNCONDITIONAL love no matter what……not push their ideas onto their children with how their life should run for them. Chris knew thats what they were doing and he to get away or perhaps that could drive him crazy. He was protecting himself.

    You have to ask yourself, how bad was it for him at home to run away INTO THE WILDERNESS like he did for so long with not telling anyone.

    I am sorry but I think you sound exactly like my mother and father, that you feel sorry for the wrong person when in fact it is the victim that you should try and understand a bit more.

    I know your a parent yes, i am not one yet but i know that i will never see my children as being selfish and they will never want to leave my house forever and not want to speak to me.

    If he was born into a loving environment none of this would be being discussed now.

    The lesson here is not about chris going into the wilderness with lack of equipment, its to the parents in the world, with so many troubled kids these days, all over the world, parents you need to love them so much and find out who they really are inside and commend them for it so that they dont ever want to cut you off…………

  36. It has been more than a week since I saw this movie and I have thought about it nearly every day. I did not know the name of the movie I was watching, did not have any background on the story but for some reason I kept watching.

    I felt haunted by the images that ended the movie and in combination with the music that surrounded those images. It has been something that I just have not been able to shake.

    I think I have compassion for both sides of the discussion; like anyone I get disgusted by society and all its requirements and wish that I could live more simply. However, I also can understand the feelings of the parents who feel like Chris was being selfish.

    I am not a parent but I think about the loved ones in my life and I think how crushed I would be if they were to die. I also think about how painful it would be for my loved ones if I were to die.

    No person is an island and this is a lesson that everyone must learn. I think that we all need other people but it does come at a price.

  37. I have mixed feelings for Mccandless’ story but ill try to convey some of them.

    As a 21 yo Australian male i sympathise with Mccandless on a few levels. I’m a confused, intelligent, lover of romantic notions and morals, who has been told a few times that my moral and logical sense supercedes my lack of common sense, however im stubborn and will rebuke this, not unlike im sure mccandless wouldve. Not common to Mccandless(yet maybe so, that is, with his conflict between sexuality and morality), im a sexually confused male looking for a purpose in this world. For so many people ‘purpose’ fits into a letterbox – accrueing the steps of what it is to live – childhood, teenager, girlfriend (or if ur a girl then boyfriend), marriage, kids, career, retirement. And good for you if these steps will make you content. In fact these steps are what ive grown up to want too. And yet my sexuality, my natural desires conflict with my morals.
    The point im making is, like Mccandless, i and many other people, in different ways, dont fit into that letterbox. The world is not perfect. Mccandless couldnt accept poverty he noticed as a child. He reasoned that there is only truth in nature and adventure. And i think thats where he went wrong. Nature devoid of humanity is’nt moral. It doesnt care about the starving human child in africa, or the 10yo human girl getting raped, or the 15yo human boy whos suicidal because he cant understand why hes attracted to other boys. The foodchain doesnt care for human feelings. By nature i mean nature mutually excluding humanity however im aware that humanity is included in the greater banner of nature. Morality is a purely human created social tool. But its necessary for human developed society.
    So like descartes, mccandless discarded all prior connection with society and finally realised that this doesnt work. Terminally, he realises that happiness is something that you need to share with others. I think this is something that we all realise, not so dramatically, and pretty quickly. I think that “happiness” is just another human created socially effective tool. But like a saw it needs a blade to work. Happiness without company is not happyness at all. And perhaps Mccandless’ extreme ideals and intentions diluted him and stunted him from this realisation until the end.

    Well, when i first read the book, i was moved by it alot, as a 21yo reserved but manly (albeit secually confused) guy i cried when i evaluated his story of dying, and i felt like moving away and doing something similar. I thought of him as a heroe. However alot of people have cut down this label. But what is a heroe? A heroe is someone who starts off with a lack of wisedom and through experience ovecomes obstacles and gains wisedom in an interesting way, so that other people take notice, discuss and learn from his/her experience. Was he abit unprepared? Not really. He was educated and prepared, although limited, however he made a few bad, unwise decisions. And some of the most prepared people can still make bad, unwise decisions. Let me suppose an idealised comparison. A monks goal is to attract attention for a good, noble cause and so he goes on a hunger strike or sets himself on fire, gains the discussion and attention, thus becoming a heroe. He was prepared and educated in his decision. One might suggest that the monk has made a bad decision to obtain his goal as he has died, but he was willing to risk this. Mccandless was also willing to risk his life, altho he clearly didnt want to die in contrast to the monk. However, mccandless too obtains his goal, that of truth, the wisedom that happiness is needed to be shared. The fact that hes helped other people realise this through his story makes him a hero in my eyes.
    And those that call him an idiot shouldnt throw rocks from glass houses for this wisedom has been lost to you and that is your loss. In fairness i think you rockthrowers admire him but are just very distraught about his death and see it as a tragedy. But everyone dies sometime, its a part of life. His life was short but definately heroic even if he made a couple of bad decisions.

  38. There is no divinity, no profound difference & no ill judgment on Christopher. He is another soul here that through his earlier experiences, had molded him and put him on the path that has inevitably written its way. Leaving the rest of us to read (and comment) about.
    Think of your own life and see if there was any stage that your decisions came close to anything as clear as Christopher’s. (without the likeness to some TV show that will probably determine your choices. Just to seem normal or popular)
    Chris, like all of us, is not perfect, and was no scholar.

    Yes society blinds most of us unless we are blessed by the mindset to rise above it (for some it is as simple as saying daily prayers!!!)
    So, unfortunately, Chris had to live and die to give us another example of this simple lesson.
    FORGET the therapists, use what God gave you and see the world. Even waking up before the sun rises in your urban places gives you a feeling and longing for a trip to the nearest piece of greenery.
    Seek it before it is all gone!!! So you too can feel that special connection to nature and what it does to the human soul. It has always been speaking to us. Look at the domestic animals who sometimes gaze and fall asleep in contentment.
    They don’t need the TV or the mall or the phone to live.
    If these words are still taken with the ever so common western world cynicism, you are already a lot further from peace than you think!
    Yes God has Chris. He is blessed to have been used to lengthen the human story. After all, we are writing right now. Even in these blogs.
    Consider writing your own story, only on REAL paper!

  39. This guy isn’t a hero. He’s an idiot who got into something that he didn’t even bother to find out about first and died as a result of his stupidity.

    People can romanticize, glamorize, and pedestalize him all they want–but the bottom line is that he went into something without a clue of what he was doing, and died because of it.

    I rather doubt it was his choice to die, or that he “found himself” or “became enlightened’ or whatever other crap title someone wants to apply to him

    Whether it’s a drunk frat boy falling off a balcony at spring break, walking down an Alaskan remote road with no preperation or mounting the proverbial rocket engine to your car, stupid people do stupid things. Their death doesn’t elevate them to MENSA status as a result…..

  40. At first, I had no intention of watching the movie. I’m glad I finally did though. It made me open my eyes, and every so often a chance to see the reality and the truth. How “Humans” or our species have become so dependant on the comforts and the conveniences that surround us every moment of every day, that over time have become blinded and consumed by these material “things”. We are capable of so much more.

    Christopher’s poems and stories about life, nature, and society speak real truth. The amount of stress, worry and pain we are putting on our mind and bodies is mind blowing, and all for what? money? That’s always on our mind. We can go our entire lives trying to ignore or or fix (with more money) our stress and loneliness, that we are forgetting about true ancient ways that build our minds into what we are really capable of. I hope more people can understand his stories, and take something from it.

    I do find it a slightly discomforting though, that for many, it took a movie about someones life and knowledge to make us understand. Strange? The media? SOCIETY! Why cant we figure this out on our own? Why do we have to depend on the entertainment world ( the people we are spending so much money on) to show this to us?

    It’s a true shame that he ended up trapped and alone in the wild, only at the end to find that “happiness is real when shared” Your life stories and bravery changed my life and encouraged me to experience the real love and wild that surround us. Thank you.

  41. This movie has really touched me, and i had no idea it was a true story un till the very end, it really messed with me. I feel parts of me want soo badly to do what he has done, Society does Suck, but you have to make the best of it. Live as much as you can and don’t let life pass you by. Great movie! I feel very screwed up after watching this lol.

    “Happiness is only real when shared”

    Rachel XX

  42. Thom,
    I read your post how you walked a path much like Chris, but felt it too similar write your own story.

    I encourage you to tell your story.

    Your experiences and perspectives are unique. There is no one like you. Write! I’d read it.

  43. I’m reading Krakauer’s book now & to learn about Chris, Nemo, Carl McCunn and so on is a beam of light and a sharp, fresh wind. How wonderful that Americans like you exist and always have, always will. The movie pierced me, so did There Will be Blood. I bought Jon’s book for my 18 year old son who won’t need to go into the wild quite that way, who is whole like his sister and a revolutionary without having to fight in the jungle like Che. I moved to Chile following love and went thru hell, inside, after setting out at 19, leaving family, country behind because I was empty and needed change, change the world and finally change in myself. This happens whether you have to test yrself like Chris is whether you are wrestling with things that come from even farther back. The Andes worked their magic on me. I forget that not having a college degree has great value, that despite struggling to finally get one I still don’t have one and I’m doing, have done other things that have helped other people and finally are what have changed me and continue to, the most. For you to be considered the family failure, the dumb one who doesn’t have the talent for amassing money and things, and even to have spent more than 15 years devoting yourself to a movement and fulfilling the directives of someone else, ok, a master, but in the end…you had to find your own way of being a master as well. If Chris never contacted his parents again, they’ll meet on the other side. This world poses difficulties often insurmountable while we’re alive, for understanding each other. Differences of energy frequency. But why was Chris born to those parents, myself to mine? There’s the magic. I also have met (and loved) people who believe themselves to be seekers and mystics and yet…some obvious things escape them as well. As they escape me. No judging, accepting, discovering things only meant for you, the mission only meant for you.

    Anna, Thom, Ted, as well as those who are angry and others who feel superior, I’m glad I read all this, but esp. in these times when the image of Americans has become so distorted, and your society dark, cruel, mean, how wonderful that the mysticism that’s always been powerful — your conscience, higher self as a collective — is starting to shout again. How we need to hear it, cause you guys are poised on the edge and I was giving up on you. But things are more interesting than I believed. A big hug to U all.

  44. Thank you for the beautifully written piece about this story.

    What I found to be most striking, was his complete unawareness of what he needed to survive and how this is a reflection on mankind’s current state of though regarding our survival in general…For example, he took many books, as that was his “normal” survival requirements, as known to him through his culture. Many of us are, and it is becoming worse all the time as we live in our contrived cities and towns completly removed from what real survival is, and because of this, we don’t seem to mind destroying the very essence of nature which is vital to our real survival. In other words, we have come to think that money is our survival or perhaps books, and as such, we are very willing to sacrifice all of the animals, plants, water, and air to gain money or books etc. However, money will not help us when we need to breath and eat when all the air and food have been destroyed. Ultimately our taking care of our natural environment is more important than money. But, although we know this intellectually, we don’t know it, because we have been so far removed from it, just like Chris. We are all mentally deceived in this contrived world and we will all die as a race because of it. The day of reckening between man and nature is coming. Money or books or ideals that have nothing to do with what we really need will not save us. In addition, consider that perhaps he would have found more animals to eat, if most of them were not near extinction.

  45. There is nothing romantic about what this guy did. Hollywood made it romantic. What he did was completely selfish and stupid. He basically decided to be a BUM! He had every privilege in life that many kids never get. He apparently applied himself in a tough school in order to get into Harvard law – then just quit on life. If you think he was searching to live life – then just take a look at how he is living it today! 6 feet under! Incredibly stupid to not have been trained in surving in the outdoors – to not have been living near a stream or lake to fish and to not have a map and to have studied the area so he could have known that 3-5 miles away there was a first aid cabin for hunters and a manual tram 1 mile down stream he could have used to cross the river. Nothing romantic about dying a gruesome death of starvation just like that of holocaust victims. The only thing that is clear to me was that he needed psychaitric help rather than an adventure in the wilderness.

  46. I don’t think Chris had a choice. It seems to me from what I have read/heard/seen in the movie (I used to live in Alaska) that he really could not have been mentally competent to work amongst other people from day to day.
    I am sure that had he made it back from Alaska he’d have spent the rest of his life in agony unless he spent it on the road.
    If this guy had ever had to sit at a desk and wear a tie I think he’d have committed suicide. For someone to have to go to the extremes he did to find out that being alone sucks… well…
    Anyhow, he kind of reminds me of that idiot that got eaten by Grizzlies. Let me tell you… Alaska is full of people like that.
    Sarah Palin is proof that they grow ’em larger than life and crazy as bedbugs up there. I just think it’s too bad Chris McCandless couldn’t have had a little cabin somewhere more manageable. He probably would have been in Alaska to this day.

  47. i think chris was an amazing person. i think this because he lived free and was happy. its seems these days that so many people are so narrow minded and never learn that there is so much to do in this world and so much to learn. Chris wanted to go to alaska… so he did. nobody was going to stop him, even if his family and friends knew he was going away. it was his dream to go to alaska and he completed it. I know its really sad that he died out there but he completed his dream and made it to alaska. I think thats just awesome because how many people can say they truly have completed their dreams?

  48. I’ve enjoyed this site very much. Thanks all for your thoughts and thanks for the article.

    I just want to point out a few things: a few posters have mentioned that he ate the poisonous plant seeds and how that contributed to his demise. Please know that was a theory Krakauer had and decided to let it be published in his book before getting the actual test results back. The results then came back and forensically and samples of plant/food supplies he had that did not happen. There was no evidence found of a toxic plant. It is unfortunate I think that Penn included that known falsity in the movie.

    We must also accept that the official findings think his death is a bit mysterious but find only evidence of starvation. However, we know that Chris’s SOS note said he was injured. Clearly it was not something as obvious as a broken leg or arm but he might have strained his back or a shoulder or hip or something that would have impaired his ability to hunt. (There is no real evidence there was a lack of game/fish, which is a created idea from the book. In fact typically at that time in that area there is an abundance of at least fish.)

    Also, it is quite plausible that he had Giardia or cryptosporidium from not filtering or boiling water for drinking or bathing. I have had 2 friends almost die from Giardia even though they were receiving medical care. (Separate cases: one got it swimming; the other got it from her boyfriend.) They were emaciated and incredibly weak, near death only 3 months after contracting it. I think if Chris had that, there would be no way for him to make it through that alone. Before you know it- you are too weak to get help, you can’t get enough nutrition from the food you’re eating and you don’t want to eat much anyway. Or he could have contracted a parasite from under cooked meat which could have similarly weakened him. This on top of an injury compromising his ability to hunt could easily have been the tipping point.

    For the people who think he was stupid or unprepared, his own history refutes that. He had survived for 2 years doing this exact thing. Yes, he did live and work among people for periods of time but he also lived for months in isolation, living off the land- including time in the desert. I have lived in mountains and I have lived in the desert- to me, it is WAY harder to live off the land in the desert. If he could do that (which he proved he could) than he should have been able to do it for a period of time in the mountains. He knew his limits and attempted to leave in July. When he found the section of river he was familiar with impassable, possibly he by that time was not thinking clear enough to explore the riverside for an area to cross or made the conscious choice not to do that maybe thinking he would get lost and not be able to track his way back out.

    For whatever reason he was starving- that means he would be getting more and more deficient and it would have been harder and harder for him to think clearly and reason well. That doesn’t mean he was mentally ill- that’s just what happens to any of us when we don’t have either enough water or food or sleep. This was, to me, the place where it fell apart for him. He mentally was ready to be done with his adventure alone in the wild- at least for the time being. He can’t cross, isn’t reasoning clearly, then gets injured, can’t hunt well, is sick possibly from Giardia, and down it spirals pretty quickly from there.

    Obviously it was foolish not to have a map- that could have shown him the bridge/tram down river. The thing I think we must understand about this is how faithful Chris was. The entire time of his travels he let life take him where it will, and he trusted life/ God would provide for him. And it always did- until he couldn’t cross the river. Maybe it was as simple as ‘I can’t cross the river, I must be meant to stay’. This trusting faithfulness coupled with his idealism is how Chris could burn his money and avoid the emergency shelters (although the food in them was spoiled and they were vandalized). Possibly, by the time he realized he was no longer going to be “provided for”- it was too late- too many problems were compounding.

    I realize some people don’t get him and think he was unstable for wanting to do this in the first place. I disagree. His sister says he was sensitive, people who knew him talk about how he was idealistic and always since he was young interested in doing what was right, being good and not evil. A sensitive young man who finds out a devastating family secret now has a break in belonging with his own family, already isn’t fulfilled by material pursuits and societal norms, is inspired by idealistic authors and feels closer to God in nature- it seems like the exact response he would have. Some of us are wired to feel more peaceful, closer to God, more fulfilled etc. in nature. I’m that way. He was that way. It was the perfect time for him to do that… he had fulfilled his familial expectation of going to college- and doing well in college- but before locking himself into more study or a career or a relationship, he wanted to take time for himself. To get clear who he was- separate from his family, to see what he was capable of in areas that were important to him, to answer esoteric questions for himself. This isn’t crazy… it used to be normal. Many cultures had coming of age rituals for the young adults. As a follower of Native American traditions I did a vision quest. This used to be considered imperative to adulthood in many societies- we no longer have a way for people to explore how they are going to transition from the self created within their family to their own.

    In college he started telling people he wanted to do his own Alaskan adventure, his own time of introspection in the wild as did the characters he admired. His whole travels were leading up to his time in Alaska. I think it is clear, that as he made his choice in July to leave the bush, he would have in fact been done with this time of self discovery and self reliance and either gone back home or at least contacted his family. I disagree with the posters who think he would have wandered as a bum his whole life. He liked people; he liked helping people- ever since he was a child. I believe he would he rejoined society on his terms- living and working in a way that he could be true to himself (probably not as a lawyer!), feel he was a force “for good” on the planet, and eventually had a family etc.

    That is what we all want isn’t it- to be loved, to be able to love, to feel satisfied with our existence, our place in the world so we can die happy. I think it is incredible that someone who didn’t want to die, when faced with it, was gracious and loving and peaceful. How many of us could have written a note like that? He was so complete and fulfilled there was only a loving phrase to end it all. I think by adding his name, he insured his parents would be informed (probably expecting his body would not be found for a very long time). I think it is quite possible that his lack of communication with his parents was less about hurting them than it was about knowing he would be in jeopardy of not finishing his trek if he did talk to them. He would be persuaded to stop or start to feel guilty if he did continue.

    Anyway, this was long, sorry but I wanted to cover several points. I think the world lost a young man who would have been a gentle soul committed to being a good person. He will be missed more than we even know. I am appreciative to his family for making the undeveloped photos and journal entries available to the world so we can have some understanding and closure.

  49. Hey NU,

    Excellent commentary and one of the best and most positive and supportive of Chris that I have read.

    You help explain a theory of how it is not that complicated to understand how Chris may have died. He got sick, he was injured, it got to be too much.

    I think you may be right. I agree that he was not the type of person to quit on life. He might have been ready to step back to society.

    I remember going through four tough years in university to get a science degree. By the time I was done, I was no longer a ‘teenager’ or ‘student’ and it felt like going ‘cold turkey’ to step out into the world and start working. So, I took my little 1970 Corolla and drove across the USA from central Canada and explored nature and the great west. I did not go into the bush as I was not comfortable alone there, I prefered the safer environments of exploring cities, possible graduate schools, and other things.

    Chris needed a break from the world and he had to figure out what he wanted and who he was.

    I am seeing my own daughter going through a similar stage at age 18 and she will go through this for a few years in college. Its almost temporary insanity for young people during those years. Young people become so introspective to a point that its a fault and they get in the way of themselves with their own drama. It is part of growing up and its a stage that is hard to avoid.

    Thanks again NU for writing what you did.

  50. The story of Chris McCandless will haunt me for the rest of my life. After seeing the movie, I cried hysterically for almost an hour. What haunted me was that I had hitchiked the exact same roads as Chris, at the same age as him, just a few years later. I lived in a tent for months in the Yukon. I will say after seeing the movie and reading Krackauer’s book, that Chris was a young man with a striking dichotomy within him; he was both a genius and a fool. A genius because, like all geniuses and great figures remembered throughout history, Chris rejected the norms of society and had the courage to push the boundaries of conventional lifeways and reality. He was a fool because he pushed his idealism to the extreme, to the point where there is no more living reality. Even Henry David Thoreau and others Chris emulated had the realization that man is not an isolated animal, and had to forfiet their solitude for civilization. It is necessary to survive. Chris paid the ultimate price for his forced solitude. His realization that ‘happiness is only real when shared’ came at the exact point when he crossed the brink. It took him years to come to this realization; to forgive his parents and choose to forfiet the ideal for the necessity of humanity and society. Unfortunately, it was too late for him, gaunt and emaciated as he died what must have been an incredibly lonely and painful death. In the end,however, Chris was more genius than fool; he stayed the course of his ideals, even unto his own demise. This is why he will be remembered and why there is a movie about him. Being touched by such a story is a testament to the truth he lived out, even up to his last breath, stranded in a wilderness that demanded respect and invoked terror. You were brave, Chris, and I feel like you were a brother of mine. May you rest in peace and truly find a place where you can live out your ideals…with God. You couldn’t have ever known that you would touch so many people’s lives. We love you Christopher McCandless.
    For myself, I ran away from home and escaped my own abusive family to live my great northern adventure, inspired by my own blind idealism. I had rented a shack out in the wilderness and planned to stay forever. But I stood on the brink of that terror that is the spirit of the north. I chose the other path, and hitchhiked back to my family; trading idealism for the acceptance of a more mundane life. Eddie Vedder’s song ‘society’ says it all: “I think I need to find a bigger place, for when you have more than you need, you need more space…” Chris had more than he needed; too much idealism, and he had to find the biggest, loneliest space of all, the space of emptiness and terror and death. Me, I abandoned the ‘more than I needed’, and came back home. This is because no matter where you go, you bring your torments with you. You must change your inside; the outer world is not the demon; it is your own phantasms in your mind that are the real demons. Today I meditate to find the free spaces that are within my own heart; this way I can live in a world that has gone insane, and I can deal with a tormented childhood.

    Chris was young and he died. I was young and I chose to live. I went up to the north as a child and came back a man. Now I am a father with my own children. I will go back to the places where Chris and I spent our time as children shrouded by idealism, and see again the place where I became a man; a place and a time that I realized that I must accept the world. It will be 11 years later. To bring my children there will be such an experience.

    To this day, I am haunted by the north. There is a powerful and vast spirit there that one must feel to know. I am haunted by dreams of the north; the desolation and the beauty and the terror; I am haunted by my own ancestors agonies as they slowly starved to death in the north and were driven to cannibalism to live; I am haunted by the profound effect the north can have over the mind and body. I am haunted by the scowling frozen faces of the ice mummies who died in 1846 in such a lonely place on Beechey island with the doomed Franklin expedition; and I am haunted by Chris McCandless; who was so much like me. I shudder to think how similar we were, and how close to the brink I was, before I turned my back on that great spirit and chose to live.

    Chris had a movie made about him. I am going to make a movie about these tragic stories that show the mystique of the north. Look out for it everyone! I will venture to the magic bus in Alaska and see where Chris took his last breath. I want to pay his memory homage on film.

    Chris, you are alone no longer. I am also not alone, because I embraced the world. I did not have the courage Chris had, and for that I am alive today, with my own children. But Chris was a courageous hero, despite his naieve blindness, and that is why he will be remembered.

    I love you Chris. You rest now in peace. I’m sure I have the same kind of soul you have, and I salute you as a brother in spirit.

  51. Well written!

    I have seen the movie four or five times, and it is my unchallenged favourite. I have read all these comments curious to get closer to the answer to this mystery of a man wanting to escape society.

    Another thing I thought of with the movie, that no one has mentioned yet. At the end Chris writes his own line in the book “happiness only real when shared”. I think this states a change in him, when he realizes he has to write his own book, and he can’t live his life following others words.

    Chris’s story is an inspiration to me, and I will use it as an inspiration to get through my year at the university, and in the future.

  52. I saw the movie on 3/14/2009. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

    Chris did what so many of us wanted to do at that age. Break away and find a peaceful place. He deserves much credit for having the strength and desire to chase his dream and find his place. It was his path and he took it.

    It doesn’t matter that his life ended early. All that matters is that so many of us have lived through Chris and got to experience a little of what he felt. It’s sad that Chris didn’t survive his journey. Imagine the stories he could tell. But, what if he did survive..? Would he be happy in this society..? (I think not) Would he go back to the wild..? (I think so) Would we even hear this story if not for the tragic ending..? (probably not)

    The bottom line is that he lived and he loved and in the end he found peace. We should all be so lucky.

  53. I read the book “Into the Wild” by Krackauer. The author described Chris was a person who would finish where he started, but how come Chris didn’t try to figure out his way back to human society? But he waited until August instead?

    However, Chris is a significant inspiration to me, because he allowed to notice that FAMILY IS THE MOST THING WE GOT, NO MATTER WHAT.

  54. Sorry, but this McCandless guy was a fraud, a moron and a jerk. He appears to have become a modern “living off the grid” icon but what he learned the hard way is that PEOPLE NEED PEOPLE. He had some sort of romantic notion that he was going to live off the land and be a pure soul, so he essentially gave the world the finger and walked into the Alaskan wilderness to become one with nature.

    I’d respect him if he even remotely succeeded returning to being a noble savage or even as a 17th-century frontiersman, but what did he do? He walked about 20 miles down a MAN-MADE road and then set up camp in a MAN-MADE bus. Then he killed game with a MAN-MADE rifle, wore MAN-MADE clothes, and slowly started to die. When things got bad, it seems there’s strong evidence he resorted to crime and broke into some cabins looking for food. Judging by his notes, that’s about when the romance faded away and he realized that he needed people.

    People who really live in the wild — native tribes in the Amazon, the Masai in Africa, Bedouins, etc. — all depend on other people. They know the divide between survival and death is very thin and they cling to each other. Chris McBrainless, despite his modern upbringing and high education, didn’t have the basic sense to embrace that very simple and basic truth. Believe me, this man who rejected society and people 2 months earlier would have been VERY HAPPY if a hiker walked into that bus when he was too weak to get out of his sleeping bag.

    People — mainly naive, confused, idealistic young men with wanderlust — see something heroic and brave in his story. I just see extreme arrogance and a strange rejection of thousands of years of human wisdom and living customs. Next time you think about what a neat guy he was, think about how his parents must feel knowing he died alone in an abandoned bus weighing 68 pounds. He was a proud, selfish, self-absorbed, arrogant, stupid person — period. He is the epitome of Proverbs 14:12 (http://bible.cc/proverbs/14-12.htm).

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