Into the Wild: Getting Rid of Material Stuff

· October 14, 2018

Why choose to live like a beggar when you have everything? Why give up every luxury and comfort to live like a savage? Perhaps you just want to live, in the strictest sense of the word. Be alive, eat to survive, feel like a part of nature, forget what society establishes, and be free… That’s what Into the Wild, a 2007 film directed by Sean Penn, is all about.

Into the Wild’s argument

Jon Krakauer’s book is the inspiration for the film and it talks about a real story: Christopher McCandless’ story. He was a young man who was born in Virginia and belonged to an upper-middle-class family. He lived a well-off childhood with his parents. However, in reality, behind the appearances of a model family, discussions were very frequent. McCandless was a young man who excelled in his studies from an early age. He graduated in anthropology and history and loved to read.

Two of his favorite authors were Tolstoi and Thoreau. They inspired him and led him to make the most radical decision of his life. Sick of living in a world of appearances, of always doing what ”he had to do”, of living in an absolutely materialistic world, and having to follow the rules, he decided to leave everything behind. He donated all of his savings to charity and started a solo trip, with nothing but his backpack and a few belongings.

A hero is born

McCandless wanted to experience a state of absolute freedom. He wanted to be one with nature. It wasn’t easy, but that’s the path he decided for himself.

This romantic vision of life and of our wild side made McCandless a kind of legendary hero that fueled the American popular folklore of the twentieth century. However, behind the legend, there’s always a possible darker truth. A detractor side that demystified this modern hero and his exploits came for his legions of followers.

Into the Wild presents the sweetest version of this character as a collection of legends narrated by his sister and by McCandless himself. He travels through inhospitable places and fascinating paths and also falls into the darkest places of big cities…

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

-Henry David Thoreau-


Christopher during his trip.

Freedom

Can we really be free in a world full of obligations and impositions? We can talk about social, political and speech freedom, but they’re definitely limited. Can we really talk about freedom if limits exist?

Freedom, in its strictest sense, should not be limited. Therefore, the concept of freedom that we have today has been in constant adaptation. When we think of freedom, we think of freedom as dependent on something. For example, social freedom is dependent on and limited by laws and morality.

McCandless felt that he had never been free, that everything he had done in his life was expected of him. Society forces us to follow rules: study, work, buy a house with the money you’ve earned… everything is related to material stuff.

People graduate from college as a symbol of status, of power, of “being someone”, rather than to really learn. At the same time, college degrees open the doors to get jobs in order to get money so they can buy material things that will make them “happy”.

The origin of the utopia

McCandless enjoyed learning and studying, but he didn’t see it as a goal or as an object he wanted to possess. A college degree didn’t matter to him. However, his family celebrated it as a great achievement, as something that every “good son” should aspire. But, for McCandless, it was nothing more than an impediment to his search for freedom.

This young man decided to put his own utopia in practice, giving up everything to be free. He didn’t mind facing extreme conditions like sleeping on the street or hunting to eat. He wanted to be like those wild animals that live according to nature (and its rules). He wanted to experience maximum freedom, something that, for most humans, is nothing more than a dream, a utopia… For McCandless, it was an achievable goal.

Christopher reading a book.

Into the Wild: The mythification

As if it were the hero’s journey, Into the Wild shows the evolution of the character and his search for freedom. People who knew of McCandless’ journey fueled the legend and, little by little, it became a myth. This is something that seems quite complicated now, because technologies have taken over our lives, turning legends into something from the past.

Heroes usually first feel a call to embark on their journey. They do feats and, at some point, their adversities become so strong that they make them consider giving up. Later, something happens (supernatural or not) that make them get their faith back and continue their journey.

McCandless became a kind of modern hero with his trip, a legend-worthy figure. Surely, many of his achievements were exaggerated, distorted, and even degraded, but all of this turned McCandless into a myth. Everyone had heard about him and, when he was found dead, his story was reinforced. His death contributed greatly to the creation of the myth.

Christopher on his way to freedom.

The fight for ideals

McCandless turned into a utopia, into the personification of the fight for ideals. Into the Wild is about hope, the enjoyment of nature in its purest state, the overcoming of adversities, and, above all, a break. A break from our routine, from monotony where we are what we have. A break from a life where material stuff reigns and we have forgotten that we’re all mortals.

Locus terribilis and locus amoenus

McCandless knew how to capture this essence, living just to live and nothing else, enjoying what nature gave him, even if it became dark and hard. The film presents the city as the ”locus terribilis”, which means that it’s the place he doesn’t belong to. It’s a place where people who don’t want to follow the rules are condemned to live in absolute misery.

Into the Wild still.

In contrast, nature represents the locus amoenus. That’s the idyllic place where men who have renounced to material stuff don’t need anything else. In the city, McCandless goes to a shelter, looking for the comfort of a bed, but he ends up rejecting it. Despite the harsh weather conditions, anything was better for him than living in the darkest part of the city. There was no place for him there, no place for his utopia. In this place, everything had to be bought with money.

The movie Into the Wild surely achieves its mission. It manages to wake us up from that unreal world that enslaves us to get us out of our routine and comfort zone. It even encourages us to seek freedom!

”The freedom and simple beauty is just too good to pass up.”

-Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild