April 04, 2008

Into The Wild

Into The Wild is Sean Penn's movie about Christopher McCandless who died from starvation in wild(ish) Alaska in 1992. Outside movies Penn cuts a ridiculous figure, full of standard issue liberal crap and ready to advance America's enemy du jour in Venezuela, Iraq or Iran. But it's a decent movie with some first-rate non-standard issue photography. Its sincerity just about floats above the bathos of McCandless' utter selfishness. Kudos to Penn for attempting to depict profound matters, tho, honestly, it falls short. It's hard to argue with this excellent essay by an Alaskan Park Ranger, conclusion:
Consider where he died. An abandoned bus. How did it get there? On a trail. If the bus could get into the place where it died, why couldn’t McCandless get out of the place where he died? The fact that he had to live in an old bus in the first place tells you a lot. Why didn’t he have an adequate shelter from the beginning? What would he have done if he hadn’t found the bus? A bag of rice and a sleeping bag do not constitute adequate gear and provisions for a long stay in the wilderness.
No experienced backcountry person would travel during the month of April. It is a time of transition from winter’s frozen rivers and hard packed snow with good traveling conditions into spring’s quagmire of mud and raging waters where even small creeks become impassible. Hungry bears come out of their dens with just one thing in mind—eating.

Furthermore, Chris McCandless poached a moose and then wasted it. He killed a magnificent animal superbly conditioned to survive the rigors of the Alaskan wild then, inexperienced in how to preserve meat without refrigeration (the Eskimos and Indians do it to this day), he watched 1500 pounds of meat rot away in front of him. He’s lucky the stench didn’t bring a grizzly bear to end his suffering earlier. And in the end, the moose died for nothing.
So what made the difference between McCandless and I fourteen years ago? Why am I alive and he is dead? Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide while I apprenticed myself to a career and a life that I wanted more badly than I can possibly describe in so short an essay.
In the end it's all true of director and subject - selfishness, idealism, courage, stupidity. This self-portrait found in his camera shows McCandless outside the bus where he died. Rest in peace, Chris McCandless.