In Into the Wild Sean Penn thinks the main character, Christopher McCandless, who later changes his name to Alexander Supertramp, is a stubborn teen on the quest for life, and that this quest he’s taken can be quite lonely, and not in the good way. Penn took a celebratory twist on Christopher’s life and travels analyzed in the book by Jon Krakauer, and the effects it had on others. What interests me about Sean Penn’s take is how he manages to capture the audience’s emotions by relating to most people–especially teen’s–wanderlust and questioning of society. He captures questions most people have had at one point in their life about society and whether or not all of our things are truly necessary. He also captures the lust for the outdoors and the feeling of being truly free that I can personally relate to. Christopher McCandless leaves his unstable family behind shortly after graduating from Emory University with almost all A’s. After leaving, he changes his name to Alexander Supertramp and donates most of his money to charity, burns the cash he had left along with his social security card, and abandoned his car. His parents had an abusive relationship with each other, fighting frequently in front of Christopher and his sister, Carnie. The movie alludes to this as the root of his problems and his quest for a different life and for adventure. Once McCandless found out that his father had a wife and children before and during when Christopher was born, he felt utterly betrayed. McCandless valued truth above all else–another thing I can deeply relate to which also intrigued me about this movie. His sister–who narrates half of the movie–tells the audience that Christopher found it “a murder to every day’s truth.”
Director Sean Penn really jerks the emotions of the audience when he shows now Alexander meeting up with different people who help him along the way. It starts off when he first meets a hippie couple–Jan and Rainey who pick him up while he was hitchhiking. This is his first of many encounters he has with people who hope to influence him, but aren’t quite successful because he is so headstrong on his “great alaskan adventure.” Supertramp explains to Jan and Rainey that he “no longer wants to be poisoned by civilization.” Many people can relate to the somewhat toxic environment society seems to be at times, and how civilization can be too much for people to handle. The irony in his desire to no longer be poisoned by civilization is that he ultimately dies after being in Alaska for quite a while from poisoned berries, and he dies from being poisoned by the wild. In all of Supertramp’s encounters, the most heart wrenching one is when an ex-army vet picks him up in his green Ford Bronco while Supertramp is hitchhiking. The army vet had lost his wife and son in a car accident. When he took in Supertramp they got along tremendously. They spent hours in the man’s leather carving workshop together. One of the days, at three in the morning Supertramp starts to pack his things to leave. The army vet wakes up and says “I have a feeling you’re not going to stick around for our breakfast.” In classic Supertramp style, he tried to leave in the middle of the night. The man offers him a box of things for his trip up to Alaska. The box consisted of an old fishing net, a machete, and other survival tools. He treated him like he was his own son. When dropping him off, with tears in his eyes, he asks Supertramp if he could adopt him. This part jerks at the audience’s emotions so heavily because it’s one of the instances when Supertramp finds people who truly care about him–something he seemed to be lacking at home–but he leaves them to go off on this solo quest of his alone. He asks the man if they can talk about it after Alaska because he was so headstrong to get there. This is when I start to feel more sad emotions than connections with the main character. He desperately goes off on a quest to find himself and to find true happiness but he gets so caught up in the quest that he doesn’t realize he had true happiness in these encounters all along.
These encounters are additions made by Sean Penn to show what might have happened to him along the way which adds more substance to the whole idea of the movie–this quest for life and happiness. It relates to the final thing Supertramp left in his journal in his last hours. He became stuck in Alaska after the river he crossed became too high and too deadly to cross. As a result, as depicted by Penn in the movie, he feeds off of supposedly wild potato roots and “accidentally” poisons himself. It has been speculated that in real life it was intentional, but the way Sean Penn portrays it makes the movie more tragic and shows how vulnerable man really can be when left in the wild alone. Once he starts feeling off, Supertramp looks in his plant guide book closer and realizes he mistook the potato plant for another poisonous one. After suffering intensely for several days he realizes his time is soon to run out. With tears streaming down his face, he etches into one of his books “happiness is only real when shared.” The most relatable quote in all of the movie. After all of the wonderful encounters he had with people from all walks of the earth, he realizes that in his stubborn quest for happiness, he was missing the whole point, and that is to experience it with others. Sean Penn displays this message throughout the movie without the audience realizing it until the end when Supertramp writes the quote. The most intriguing thing to me is that Supertramp seemed to be on two sides of the spectrum. Side one is a kid who never truly dealt with his problems at home, rebelled against the world and his family, desperately looking for something to bring him sheer happiness along the way. And that was, for him, to get rid of all of his possessions that his family prided themselves so much on and simply to live.
This is something that all people especially in this day and age should learn from, and that I resonate with on a less extreme level. Everybody gets so caught up in the material things that they don’t realize how truly beautiful their natural surroundings are. They even destroy their natural surroundings just for the production of their beloved material possessions. Side two is an adventure seeker. An outdoors man trapped in the regular world for too long who just wanted to be free in his surroundings and run with nature. The second side resonates with me as well. Often times I find myself wanting to just up and leave, to explore all of the beautiful things this world has to offer that are just simply there naturally. Often times I find myself too caught up in the business of everyday life and dream of going on an endeavour similar to his. Certainly, I wouldn’t go it alone, but had I not seen this movie I probably would have considered it. I never truly thought about how true his realization was until I reached the end of the movie. And after all, truth was what Christopher McCandless valued the most.
Link to movie on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WydJ1w31OEI