It has been many years since I first watched Into the Wild but I find myself revisiting it from time to time. The film is based on the real story of Christopher McCandless, a guy who was repulsed by the materialistic inclinations of society and decided to get away from it all. He was later discovered – starved to death – in an abandoned bus near the bank of Sushana river in Alaska.
The tale brings forth some important aspects of the nature of mankind.
For thousands of years, we have worked hard at building civilizations – carefully crafting out economic and social systems, making remarkable progress in science and medicine, dominating other species to the point of servitude, and even extending our reaches beyond the planet we’re born in. We’ve won the battle for daily survival (temporarily, at least).
Yet, here’s a man willing to abandon all that and return to the mercy of nature’s whims, where he is weaker than the weakest of animals. The answer, I believe, lies in a passing thought which is narrated halfway through the movie:
…how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.
In a system where our day-to-day survival is automatically taken care of, we seek other forms of victory. Like careers, hobbies, riches. We build our lives around these, hoping to find happiness through them – and sometimes we do. But the stakes just aren’t high enough to bring the raw “feeling of strength” that Chris talks about.
There’s a scene where he eats an apple during his trek. His happiness is beyond bounds. He starts talking to it:
You are really good. I mean, you’re like, a hundred thousand times better than like any apple I’ve ever had. I’m not Superman, I’m Supertramp and you’re Superapple. You’re so tasty, you’re so organic, so natural. You are the apple of my eye, ha!
This, for me, is the defining moment of the film – the ideal that Chris was chasing.
But everything said and done, his foolhardy decisions led to his demise. When Chris first discovered the abandoned vehicle in the middle of nowhere, he lovingly named it “the Magic bus”, not knowing what’s in store. What started off as a shelter quickly became a prison.
It’s hard to imagine how he might have felt as he waited for death. His last words serve as a chilly reminder that no one wants to die alone:
Happiness is only real when shared.