‘The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.’
Into the Wild (2007) tells the story of Christopher McCandless, directed by Sean Penn and based on a biography of the same name, written by Jon Krakauer. Following Christopher’s (Emile Hirsch) graduation from college, he has already decided to break away from society; sacrificing a promising career, he donates his $25,000 collage fund to charity and heads out West without a trace. Christopher keeps a journal of his experiences throughout the two years of roaming across the country, completing his transformation with a new name: Alexander Supertramp.
The precise circumstances of his death remain unclear, but starvation was the main cause. Christopher was discovered in an abandoned bus in Alaska, and a piece of news about the unknown, young hiker captured the attention of Jon Krakauer. Beginning with the journals, Krakauer traced the pieces of his travels together and released an article titled ‘Death of an Innocent’, which he later expanded into a full biographical account—using material from interviews with people Chris encountered through his travels, as well as his journal.
Into the Wild examines Christopher’s character and motivations for seeking out solitude of such a degree, presenting the narrative without judgement—the events proceed out of sequence, beginning with Christoper’s final destination, Alaska, displaying meaningful encounters with people along his travels, and formative childhood memories. He is shown to be a strong-minded, intelligent idealist inspired by the ascetic philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, and especially Jack London.
Throughout the production of the film, Sean Penn negotiated with the McCandless family about how to portray aspects of the story, and Hirsch’s moving performance was an important part in how the film turned out; in capturing the spirit of Chris, and painting a broader picture of a young man trying to come to terms with his parents and his culture. The filming locations followed in the footsteps of Christopher’s travels, and filming proceeded for 8 months in order to replicate the harsh weather conditions, and incorporate seasonal changes. The score provided by Eddie Vedder (Penn contacted him personally to contribute music for the film) is powerful and adds to the storytelling.
Christopher McCandless: The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know 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.