Jan 14, 08
people who have seen the movie, lovers of the outdoors
Read in October, 2007
I first read Into the Wild ten years ago when it first came out after finding out that parts of it are set in Carthage, Miner County, South Dakota pop. 187, a town where my mother has family and where her cousin was once mayor. My great-grandmother is buried in Howard, the Miner county seat. So that was the book and movie’s initial appeal. I mean this town is the true “blink-and-you-miss-it” town. That is, if one would ever even happen to drive through it as it isn’t on a main road. So I wondered, how young Chris McCandless, the subject of the book and movie ended up in Carthage in the first place.
Then I read that Sean Penn was finally making a movie adapted from the book and filming in Carthage. I thought it would be really interesting to see Carthage on the big screen. The first day it was showing in our little theater here in town I Shanghaied my husband (who really isn’t a movie goer, in fact if you ask him, on a scale of 1-10, that he’d suggest going to a movie as a form of entertainment he’d probably tell you –2) into going with me for the matinee. Now John had seen the Oprah show where Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch (who portrays young McCandless in the film) were guests along with author Jon Krakauer and didn’t think too much of McCandless so he was even less excited than usual about seeing this film. If he had known ahead of time that it was 140 minutes long he’d probably had left the theater after his first carton of Milk Duds. But the trooper he is, he persevered for my sake.
The movie adequately told the story of young Christopher McCandless who after graduating from Emory University, took off on a two year road trip, calling himself Alexander Supertramp. Very early on his car was destroyed and he abandoned it, burned what little money he had left and took off on foot. Some one say he was idealist others an adventurer, but others just reckless. Everyone seems to have his or her own opinion. What is clear is that he was found two year later dead in an abandoned bus just north of Denali National Park in Alaska. However his adventures along the way and the people he met tell a very interesting story. And the just how he died is still fodder for speculation although Krakauer does give his theory. Hirsch as McCandless is wonderful – his portrayal deserves an Oscar nomination as does that of Hal Holbrook as Ron Franz, the elderly recluse who befriends him. Told mostly in flashbacks, the movie suffers from uneven editing. I was also disappointed in the cinematography—the Alaskan scenes could have been brilliant but they were just average. That said, the South Dakota prairie was breathtaking. And it was fun to see Carthage. I think the entire town was filmed.
After watching the movie, I was compelled to read the book again. At only 207 pages it’s a fairly quick read. It was even more meaningful after watching the movie. I read many passages out loud to my husband and told him I thought he might change his opinion of McCandless. He is now reading the book. I don’t have the absolutely negative opinion of young Chris as many people have. He was a bit reckless, that’s for sure. But no more than many young men. As Krakauer mentions late in the book, it’s that attribute of daring that contributes to many young men signing up for the military—particularly in times of war. Yes, he did some things wrong. But don’t we all. The only reason that we’re reading about him was that he made some little mistakes that ended up killing him. He was actually a smart kid and I found a lot in him to be admired. It was sad he had to die. Any loss of life is sad. And that is what bothers me the most. That a parent lost a child, that a sister lost a brother, that a world lost a promising young man. There are lessons to be learned here, of course, but was the price too great?