October 23, 2007

I now walk into the wild

This past weekend, Into The Wild finally trickled down to those of us not located in big glamorous cities. I promise not to wreck it for you if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, these are just a few of my thoughts after having done both this past week.

Components of McCandless’ grand Alaskan adventure tug relentlessly and almost perniciously at some loose threads inside me. I suspect that elements of following your passion with such unbridled drive and joy touch many of us on some level, which is why the book sold so well, and why the movie was made. I was glad I had read the book first, shading the characters, the motivations, filling in the missing chunks, but the movie was very faithful to the book.

The movie review in our local paper said that McCandless was “sanctimonious and arrogant,” and that sat so wrong with me. I surely didn’t know McCandless, and it’s easy to forget after the book and the film and a big-name soundtrack that he was actually a real person. But more than anything to me, he seemed sincere, even if the misguided optimism about his odds of success in the wild ended up fatal.

As one interviewee in the book named Sleight said, while relating Chris with another wilderness wanderer who was profiled named Everett Ruess: “Everett was strange, kind of different. But him and and McCandless, at least they tried to follow their dream. That was what was great about them. They tried. Not many do.” That, for me, was the core of the story.

I noticed that McCandless seemed to deeply affect everyone whose lives he came into, like a bolt of lightning. Everyone interviewed for the book remembered him well, much better than your standard vagrant who enters your life for a few hours or days, for a meal or a ride. But you know, I found myself empathizing with the people that McCandless left behind at every stop along the way, after he took what he needed from them — be it conversation, a father figure, travel advice, a laugh, a discussion of literature, the bouncing off of ideas and philosophical concepts. Like a blue-green bolt of ephemeral electricity he lit up their skies for a moment. But very soon, the wanderlust inside him compelled him to travel on. Everyone seemed to feel a gaping void there after Chris left, something you see especially vividly in the movie. Maybe he’s one of those shooting stars that you almost wish you’d never crossed paths with at all because everything seems dimmer in their absence, the afterglow they leave behind radiating off the otherwise dull grey walls around you.

How does the music complement the film? Very well, as I suspected. Vedder’s scoring is bittersweet and powerful, especially a memorable scene with “The Wolf,” where Vedder sounds his barbaric yawp over the roofs of this world (or actually the treeline of the Alaskan wilderness) as McCandless stands with arms outstretched on top of his bus-home, feeling the pull and glory of the wilderness. Vedder’s unselfconscious animal cries made the little hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

One specific lyric on the soundtrack that I keep rolling around in my mind is found in the song “Guaranteed.” Vedder sings “Circles they grow and they swallow people whole…” I keep thinking of what he may have meant by this line. I come up with more than one circle. Anyone who has ever found a certain idea hard to leave behind knows the exhaustion that comes with continuing to revisit it, as it soaks up the attention and the circle gets stronger in our minds. I wonder if McCandless escaped the beige circles of mediocre daily living, only to find himself pursuing a more savage circle of Alaskan wilderness. Both will swallow you whole.

Which one is worse?

Guaranteed – Eddie Vedder

Now that I am done reading Into the Wild, I have moved on to Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road and it is currently scaring the absolute bejesus out of me with its incinerated post-apocalyptic vision. More on that later but sheesh.


  • The Road is pretty damn savage. In the best possible way. A great read. Long team reader, first time poster.

    Hrothgar — October 23, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  • Do you know if the instrutmental soundtrack is going to be released as well?

    Murray — October 23, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  • Yeah, The Road is very very good. Too short in my opinion, but then I had “No Country for Old Men” to read right after that one.

    I saw the film about a month ago and didn’t even notice that Zach Galaifinakis has a role…

    Steve — October 23, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

  • Thanks for the great review. Haven’t had a chance to see the film yet, but the soundtrack is a perfect compliment to the book, which will be a classic. The people who consider Chris McCandless arrogant, just don’t get it…the book (or film) isn’t for them.

    citizent — October 23, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  • if your still feeling apocalyptic try out:

    A Canticle for Liebowitz

    and on the seamier, pulpier side

    Swan Song

    Anonymous — October 23, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  • I found the film much more sympathetic to Christopher McCandless than the book, and I had a very different reaction to the movie than I did the book.

    I understand why he did what he did, and part of me admires that. And yet, I just don’t understand why he couldn’t reach inside for an act of kindness to let his family know he was okay.

    Sure, his parents were assholes, but all that time they spent not knowing. And he loved his sister, right? Why not reach out to her?

    Everytime a character in the movie asked if his parents knew where he was, it broke my heart. Then Hal Holbrook came along and stomped it into tiny little pieces.

    Alicia — October 23, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

  • Alicia, I do absolutely agree with you on that part. As a mama myself, I only imagine how torturous it would be to not know where your little boy was, even if he was in his twenties or beyond. It surpasses torture. The scene that the movie opened with was, for me, the single most poignant and painful part of the book (where his mom hears him calling for help in her sleep and can’t help him because she doesn’t know where he is). Also a small detail from the book that there’s no way to work into the movie is how he dies wrapped in the sleeping bag his mom sewed for him. Things like that make me wish for the same thing you said. . . he may not have seen the effects, but he shattered people like his family — and Ron Franz (Holbrook was brilliant and devastating) . . . yeah.

    heather — October 23, 2007 @ 4:43 pm

  • yeah i think the “arrogance” reviews are more that he was too blind / arrogant about this being “the right path” to think about that most people do need a little help on their path. total cheeseball that i am, there was this great scene on dawson’s creek once, where joey is studying Thoreau and her teacher points out to her the line “so i borrowed an axe.” the important word being “borrowed.” thoreau wasn’t really all alone in the woods, he had help available to him and he was willing to ask for it.

    i think where people are bothered by the arrogance is in thinking you don’t need any help, walking away from everyone who would willingly help you, and then dying because you were wrong / you couldn’t do it on your own. at least that’s my take.

    i loooove the soundtrack, sonically at least, although i just listened to a hilarious review on chicago podcast Sound Demand (i think is the name?) that really pointed out some of the nonsensical lyrics.

    carolyn — October 23, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

  • The Road is the first time a book really got under my skin since I knicked Lord of the Flies out of my sister’s backpack in the 7th grade. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t stop putting myself in that situation with my little guy, but I had to stop reading it after too many bad dreams and long hours awake… I don’t remember that ever happening before.

    Bill — October 24, 2007 @ 1:28 am

  • There were several heartbreaking points where I wanted to put The Road down and never finish it. And it also gave me trouble sleeping – never start reading it alone on a very windy night.

    heather — October 24, 2007 @ 6:12 am

  • Ryan Adam’s album “Love is Hell” is a good accompaniment to The Road.

    Sean — October 24, 2007 @ 9:20 am

  • Ooh Sean! That gave me chills! Political Scientist? Afraid Not Scared? Shadowlands? I See Monsters? GOOD CALL

    heather — October 24, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  • Yeah, I agree with Alicia, especially on how the movie was much more sympathetic than the book, almost to a fault.

    If one is to be inspired by either the film or book, it is best, in my opinion, to draw your inspiration from his letter to Franz. To Franz he does not suggest taking up a life of peril, rather a life of spontaniety. Taking to the road and seeing what happens.

    One thing I found interesting — even in the wild Chris adopted a domestic life in that bus. He made it a home almost as if instinct made him do so.

    A wonderful book on domestic suffocation is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road.

    Bill — October 24, 2007 @ 10:42 am

  • I agree with Carolyn on the fact that he seemed arrogant in his decisions, but his choices scream a kind of fuck-it-all, newfound self-determination to me (think of his controlled home life). I think Krakauer saw (and captured) this figure as a true life ‘anti-hero’ in a new but similar vein as Dostoevsky, and we all relate to him somewhere deep inside.

    citizent — October 25, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  • There will always be people who don’t get someone who lives life on their own terms. They are called conformists. And they sit on the sidelines and judge others who play life by unconventional rules.

    Another great read to enjoy before the movie hits: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Some of the best writing I’ve read in a long time.

    karma — October 29, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  • Hello there, I just stumbled onto your blog. It was a really great considered review. Tank you.

    I was wondering if it mentions in the book or if you remember what books he was reading throughout his journey in the movie. I tried to make mental notes but I couldn’t remember. for example the book of poetry he hands his sister and the books he read in the magic bus.


    Matt — February 13, 2008 @ 4:55 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

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