Friday, December 10, 2010

Let's Be Real Here

Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, can teach everyone something about the way the world works. A 23 year old college graduate, infused with a sense of escape and disgust, flees every conceivable 20th century invention ensuring his existence, and embarks on a spiritual pilgrimage to be lost in the wild.

The 2007 film Into the Wild by Sean Penn, with Emile Hersch playing Chris, is a beautiful rendition of a largely true story. The film springs from a 1996 book by Jon Krakauer of the same title that I have yet to read.

As A.O Scott of the New York Times describes the film:
The story begins with an unhappy family, proceeds through a series of encounters with the lonely and the lost, and ends in a senseless, premature death. But though the film’s structure may be tragic, its spirit is anything but. It is infused with an expansive, almost giddy sense of possibility, and it communicates a pure, unaffected delight in open spaces, fresh air and bright sunshine.
The film's cinematography sets out to encourage this simple aesthetic beauty Chris saw in everything. Stocked with memorable quotes, the movie strays from the typical hallmark feel-good story when the protagonist ventures into the depths only to return a changed man. The alternate story structure suggests forgiveness, and has a huge underlying emphasis on the importance of human relationship. Chris, who denounces the joy found in relationships, is a naturally sociable person and each chapter of his life is marked by the things he learns in his footloose relationships.

All things bro aside, Chris McCandless stood to become a literary force to be reckoned with and understood more about natural human reason than anyone. Chris' story has thankfully been shared due to the immense help from the entire McCandless family. In my opinion, one of the most poignant stories of release, freedom, and understanding to ever occur.

The real Chris McCandless (circa Spring 1992)

Two years years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, 'cause "the West is the best." And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.
- Alexander Supertramp May 1992


  1. I was just reading about him last night. I've got very mixed feelings about this guy. Here's an essay about him, written from the perspective of a ranger in Alaska, and though I don't completely share the same viewpoint, he makes some good points about how Chris was unskilled. Stupid? No, I think he was genius, but unskilled and unprepared? Certainly. Here's some commentary from another blog that has great points about the essay and Chris.

    I don't know how to insert hyperlinks, so here are the addresses, first to the essay and then to the commentary:

  2. Interesting. Like you I'm not holding steadfast to what seems to be either camp, but I do love Sean Penn's response to Christian's essay. The Spartan Student most likely has the best point of view on the matter, saying yes there are things that Chris did that are undeniably foolish like killing the moose and not bringing a map, but the people who sit and say "kid was suicidal, good riddance he died" just really don't get it.

    The beauty of the story isn't in the expertise of life outdoors and living in the wild, and I'm not too sure it's about living a dream like the Spartan says. Yes Chris had a dream to get to Alaska, but that was not his only motive when he burned his Social Security card and gave his life savings to charity.

    Spartan makes another good point in accordance with others saying that bringing a GPS, satellite phone, and map would all defeat the purpose entirely.

    I can't make a strong argument about his mountaineering and survival skills considering the extent of my outdoors training includes a 6-mile hike in to a campsite for 2 nights. Complete with canned food, a tent and a trail-stove. I can however argue for McCandless' purpose in leaving. Depending on how much creative license Sean Peen took in telling the story with his film, Chris' journey was no doubt spiritual, aesthetic, and pure. He was on a search for freedom, and in my opinion, he could not have succeeded more.