INTO THE WILD: A MOVIE REVIEW
Men's Journal does a wonderful Job of exploring the life and times of Chris McCandless in condensed form, so I will not bore you with the repeat of all that here. Rather, I wanted to speak a bit about the book and the movie (They are equally wonderful) and a little about my own experiences.
I bought the book a couple of years ago by mistake after purchasing several Jack London novels at a used book store. I scooped up Whitefang and what I thought was "Call of the Wild." When I got the book home I was disappointed at first until I read the back cover and the first few pages then was hooked. I immediately resonated with this story. It was so powerful and heartbreaking while at the same time, so familiar. I had no idea they had made a movie until I saw it on Tom's Netflix list and was happy to see it was about to release to DVD. I just saw the movie tonight with my son, Donovan.
In 1991, I had just completed my B.A. in Psych from UWF and was completely clueless as to what to do. I can remember that May sitting on a beach with Tom and asking him for advice. I wanted to go be a sailor (don't laugh), but felt the call of responsibility and could not bear to disappoint my family, particularly my grandfather. I had a comforting talk with Tom but could not make any real decision at that point. A few days later, on impulse, I enrolled in the "Chapman School of Seamanship" and moved down to the area with my crazy Uncle Dwight. He was in the middle of a major psychotic break, although I didn't know it at the time. I stayed for about 2 months, but never started the school. My Uncle would rant and rave every night about the various organizations and groups who were organizing against him (now I realize this was a bit of foreshadowing of things to come). I dreamed of a life on the sea, away from everyone and everything. After having enough of my Uncle (who at one point would not let me leave his house and held me there under the threat of a gun for a hour or two until he fell asleep thinking I had decided to stay) I left and returned to Bonifay. I drove all night and walked into my parents house that morning (October 1991) and the phone was ringing. I answered it and it was Prof. Rick Parr from Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. He said he had gotten my application I had sent prior to graduation and wanted me to come up there to do my Masters in Counseling. Flattered and thankful (to have someone point me in a direction) I accepted, got married that December, then moved a week later. 17 years later, I am now a Professor and Psychologist myself, having fulfilled my own academic life and what I felt was duty to my family. I divorced and remarried during those years, had two sons, lived in 5 different cities and houses, and have about 8 years to go before my own sons are both grown.
When I read the book, Into the Wild (and later Jack London's novels) I was profoundly moved by what they each said. I was in awe of the fool-hearty courage of Chris McCandless. I have often thought about my own call of the wild and wondered what would have happened had my Uncle been a bit more stable and I had a bit more courage (or less sense). Perhaps, I wouldn't be here to write this blog. I've had many "wilderness" experiences before. Most recently was my Vision Quest experience of sleeping out in the deep Canadian wild for a week alone, which was among the top 3 most life altering experiences I've ever had. I think what moved me about Chris's story is the fact that he had the courage to live what I had/have so yearned to do and live myself. I think it is the quintessential story of men; perhaps of human beings. To run away from responsibility, to risk everything for a idea, to fore-go what society tells us is the correct or right thing to do, and simply exist in a moment to moment fashion without any rules or labels or "gotta do's" on our list.
I often think about Steven the sailor. Living in some alternate universe. I imagine him lonely and sad, feeling a failure for not having lived up to his families ideals. But sometimes I wish I could contact him and tell him how lucky and wonderful he is. I wonder if he made it, became a sea captain, and pilots a ship around the world. I wonder if he could find moments of happiness. In 8 years I'll be free of my final bit of responsibilities, having had my career, raised my kids, and had my marriages. I wonder if I will then, finally answer the call of the wild or will I be too old, too happy with my wife, too scared, too happy right where I am to do such a foolish thing----thinking that such adventures are for the young only. Or will I find some middle ground and simply go on sabbatical for a year or two, walking the Earth, and having a grand adventure but returning to what really matters. To what the movie and book and perhaps what Chris were trying to communicate all along----that what is truly of value is not just the adventure, but more importantly, that we have those around who are awake enough and love us enough to share the adventure.
"People say that what we're seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. What we seek is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel that rapture of being alive".