There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
The film “Into the Wild” is based on the book of the same name published by John Krakauer in 1996. He is also the author of another famous book entitled “Into Thin Air,” the story of a Mt. Everest disaster. “Into the Wild” was directed by Actor Sean Penn who also wrote the screenplay. The poem by Lord Byron was quoted in the book and the film.
Emile Hirsch - Wikimedia
Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) was the child of well-to-do parents who provided him with an education at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, from which he graduated in 1990. They wanted to give him the gift of a new car upon graduation, but he turned it down, stating that his second-hand Datsun was still in good condition. Chris had been accepted at Harvard Law School because of his excellent grades.
Chris’ father Walt (William Hurt) and his mother Billie (Marcia Gay Harden) were never married although they had two children, Chris and his younger sister Carine (Jena Malone). Carine narrates several episodes in the film explaining their domestic situation. Walt never divorced his first wife by whom he had a child even after the birth of Chris to Billie. Their marriage was fraught with tension which affected their two children who bonded, in part, due to their common problem.
Marcia Gay Harden - Wikimedia
Adventure to Alaska
Chris let his family know that he was planning a long-term trip by himself to Alaska and took off initially in his car which was found abandoned by police in another state. His parents realized he did not want to be found. Chris gave his remaining college fund ($24,000) to charity, burned his Social Security card and cut up his credit card. (This fact was denied by authorities later in the game.) He took on the assumed name of Alexander Supertramp.
He headed west as far as he could go and then traveled north. His first stop was in Lake Mead, Arizona in July 1990. After abandoning his car, he took the Pacific Crest Trail in California and headed north. It was at this time that he ran into a hippie couple named Rainey and Jan who gave him a ride. Jan told him “You’re a leather tramp” meaning he was a walker. “We’re rubber tramps, we drive.” Jan told him her husband had left her, then she met Rainey. She hadn’t seen her son Reno in two years and didn’t know where he was. This may have explained her kindness towards Chris (Alex). The couple caught up with him at a later date also.
Vince Vaughn - Wikimedia
Love of Outdoors
He somehow made his way to South Dakota where he met a man named Wayne (Vince Vaughn) who gave him a job riding a tractor and working in his grain elevator. Alex loved the work. He loved the mountains, the river, the sky, just to be outside. He needed to get out of a sick society, he told Wayne. The FBI came to pick up Wayne. The viewer was not told the reason why, but that incident put Alex out of work, and he went out on the road again.
Chris reached the Colorado River and saw kayakers navigating the waters. Since a kayaker had to apply for a permit to paddle down the river, he was unsuccessful due to a long waiting list. He bought a kayak anyway and took his chances. He became an expert kayaker. He was actually heading towards Mexico. He pulled in when a couple on shore waved to him and shared their hot dog lunch with him. They were nature lovers and the girl was unashamedly topless. He had to leave when he spotted the River Patrol coming down the waterway.
Hal Holbrook - Wikimedia
Narration by Carene
At various points in the film, his sister Carene interjected with bits of information. She related that Chris had always been adventurous, had always been driven. When he was four years old, he left the house and walked six blocks, and was found in another house getting into their candy jar. Carene stated that they were shocked to find out that their parents were not married. They were bastard children and their mother was a mistress. The fraudulent marriage took its toll on Chris and Carene.
At this point, he reached the Sea of Cortez, which is actually the Gulf of California, and tried to get across the border into Mexico. He learned that he would not be permitted to cross without identification, so instead he hopped a train to Los Angeles while singing “King of the Road.” He obtained a job in a fast-food restaurant for a while until he was told he would have to quit if he didn’t start wearing socks. He quit.
Meeting Old Friends Again
In California, he met Jan and Rainey again who introduced them to their young friend Tracy (Kristen Stewart) who played the guitar in a nearby night club. She invited Chris to do a duet with her because Chris played the piano. Tracy was sorry to see him leave when he had to take off again. Jan gave him a woolen cap to use in Alaska.
A Heartfelt Offer
In Salton City, California, he was picked up by a man named Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) who brought him back to his home where he lived alone. Ron explained that his wife and son had been killed in an automobile accident, and he took to drink for a while before he realized he had to stop, and did stop, cold turkey. Ron showed him his workshop where he did leathering as a hobby, and taught Alex how to do leathering. When Chris was ready to leave, Ron offered to drive him the first hundred miles of his trip to Alaska. On that ride, he told Chris he had no living relatives and would like to adopt Chris. Chris answered that they could talk about this again when he came back from Alaska. Ron shed a few tears when he left, knowing he would never see his friend again.
After several miles of walking, Chris hitchhiked again with actor Jim Gallian, who drove him from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Stampede Trail from which he could access the entrance to the wilderness. Gallian gave him a pair of rubber boots which he could use. He said his phone number was inside the boot if he needed to contact him.
William Hurt - Wikimedia
Finally the Wilderness
Once in the wilderness, Chris found an abandoned bus which he made his home. It was everything he dreamed of. He tried hunting, but was not too successful. He did kill a huge moose which he was able to cut up, but he didn’t know how to butcher the animal, and vultures came down and he was forced to abandon his project. He needed to live off the land, so the wild berries had to sustain him. He began to feel ill and was losing a lot of weight. He decided that he had eaten a poisonous berry which does not allow digestion to take place, leaving the victim open to starvation. After 113 days in the wilderness, Chris McCandless died of starvation on August 8, 1992. Four months later, his decomposed body was found in the bus by a moose hunter. Chris was found with his Social Security card and his credit card intact along with $300 in money. John Krakauer tells a different story in his book.
Scientists who had studied the case stated strongly that Chris would not have died from a poisoned berry, but that his body had gradually been starved because he was not able to secure enough food for nutrition on a daily basis. This too contradicts the facts that were told in John Krakauer’s book.
Chris McCandless was able to quote from the masters and he did so frequently. One of his favorites was a saying by Henry David Thoreau, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”