Saturday, November 10, 2007

Into The Wild (plot revealed)

October 27,2oo7

Into The Wild

I happened to overhear a conversation between two teachers about a film which one of them had seen and about which she was very excited. The name of the film was "Into The Wild." I only caught the tail end of her description of the plot and I had to ask her to repeat the title.

The film was unfamiliar to me; I had not heard or read anything about it. The teacher was fascinated with the fact that it was directed by the notable actor Sean Penn and the sound track written by rock singer Eddie Vedder who is frontman for the band Pearl Jam. She couldn't explain exactly what the film was about except to say that it revolved around the adventures of a young man who went backpacking in the wilds of Alaska.

The same afternoon I had an appointment with my therapist. Somehow we got on the subject of literature. The doctor asked me if I had ever read anything by Jon Krakauer. I said I had not nor had I ever heard of him as an author. The doctor had read and enjoyed all of Krakauer's books. He named the titles of various volumes which Krakauer had written. I was familiar with none of them. One of the books, however, was titled "Into The Wild."

"Into The Wild?" I asked, peaked by a vague recognition of the title.

"Yes," he answered. "It's been made into a film."

"Is it current?"

" Yes……its playing around the theatres as we speak."

"Hmmmmmm." I described to him the conversation I'd had earlier about the film and how odd it seemed to me to hear mention of the same obscure movie from two such dissimilar sources over such a short period of time. The doctor reminded me that the book had been on the best seller list for a long time.

"I'll have to make a point to see it," I said.

" You really ought to. I'd be interested to hear what you think about it."

The earlier conversation had not particularly spiked my interest in seeing the film but now, having had a second recommendation from none other than my therapist, who clearly thought there was some lesson for me in this film, I decided to see the flick promptly.

I'm not a person who watches television very much and when I do it's usually a documentary in which most of the information is given through the narration rather than the visuals. More often than not the visuals in a documentary have little relationship with what's being narrated. They simply form a picture background which is conducive to the time and place. After all, if you were watching a documentary about the Middle East and the picture background was composed of shoppers on Fifth Avenue it would seriously undermine the credibility of the story. In a movie, when two detectives discuss their case as they walk along the street the information is all narrated. You can turn off the picture and listen to the sound alone and still follow the whole story but if you turn down the sound and simply watch the action you will soon lose track of everything that's going on.

There are not that many good stories in the movies. The object of films is to thrill or shock. With the advent of special effects, cataclysmic action can be brought to the screen in all its explosive details. Since the bulk of moviegoers are in their teens and twenties these action films are the standard.

"Into The Wild" is a good story. It's "based" upon a book by Jon Krakhauer, "based" meaning that it varies widely from the literary. Viewing the film would lead you to believe that the book is a novel with a story line. In fact the book is a documentary with a lot of speculation. It links the hero to the myth of mountain climbing.

Chris McCandless was a college student who abruptly left home to embark on a backpacking expedition across the midwest and who eventually ended up starving to death in the wilds of Alaska.The book is not truly about McCandless but rather about the dark existential demands of the soul in its efforts to achieve an impossible freedom. The movie is a romantic adventure which utilizes and expands on interviews which were conducted by the author in his efforts to map out McCandless' travels step by step.

McCandless did not get along with his parents either in the book or in the film. The film rather demonizes the parents so that the viewer gets an impression of the son's need to escape from the bosom of the family for the good of his sanity. Actually it's the parents who do not get along with one another. There were few violent quarrels between the father and son. The father is a brilliant engineer with the space agency and has invented systems crucial to space flight. The son, respecting his father's genius, is all the more disappointed to find his father mired in the petty unhappiness engendered in the quest for material wealth. The son decides that rather than allowing the best in himself to be compromised by that same material success he will seek a new source of freedom.

The film goes farther to lay blame on the parents for the demise of the son while the book is less accusatory since its ultimate object is to solve the mystery of McCandless' despair. The film is more psychological in its trajectory while the book is more philosophical. The film has an answer while the book has none except in its reference to the myth of mountain climbing.

The film makes much of McCandless' experiences with highway vagabonds who seem to share his restlessness. These experiences are speculation on the part of the filmmaker who has an idea about how he wants the film to end. In the film McCandless touches the lives of these people in a way which changes them and eventually changes him. The book,however, suggests that McCandless shied away from intimacy of any kind and was more or less coddled and saved from starvation by the strangers who befriended him on his journey.

In the book McCandless displays scant talent for taking care of himself. In fact in Alaska, where he camped out in an old abandoned bus and where his body was found several months later, he was not very far into the wild. Assistance was everywhere around him if he had only known what he was doing. Speculation centered on what might have happened to him.........lack of preparation, unfamiliarity with the terrain. He lacks toughness yet he is a member in good standing in the strange cult of climbing in which Krakhauer himself is a participant.

McCandless keeps a journal in which he writes terse, one word revelations. In the film these journals describe his feelings, which are slowly transformed under the influence of the ice cold refrigerator of the Alaskan wilderness.

In the last analysis the book venerates McCandless' existential yearnings and places him amongst similar heroes of the wilderness challenge. The film has the hero realizing that he is lonely in the frozen landscape and that the real meaning of happiness was in the experiences he shared with likeminded travelers on the road. This realization is a reverse of his expectations. He decides to ditch the bus and rejoin the world, presumably with a new outlook on life. However when he reaches the banks of the river which he was easily able to ford four months previous he finds that it has widened into a raging current and he cannot cross. As a result he is forced to return to his campsite where he considers himself a captive of the environment and where he ultimately succumbs to starvation. Turns out that there was an outpost a few miles downriver where there was food and shelter available as well as a cable hookup for crossing the river.

The film ends with the camera focusing on the hero's last moments, pulling away slowly to show the expansive landscape with the bus at the center.............. The book ends on the touching scene of the parents visiting the site many months later and picking through the rubble which still contains personal items of the deceased.

Book or film? Take your pick of two good stories, different to be sure in their conception and conclusions. Ponder over both.......... there are questions here about the meaning and purpose of life, questions which can never be decided with a single solution. Would that the path through life be straight and narrow but no, it twists and turns through brambles and into dead ends. It meets itself and starts again. As Henry James once wrote, "We work in the dark---we do what we can---we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."


Post a Comment

<< Home