Here we have a 1996 true story about Christopher McCandless (1968-1992). Jon Krakeur wrote a 9,000 word feature article about his life, which was turned into a full scale investigative novel after the piece piqued a lot of people’s interest. A big hit, it’s taught in many education establishments around the world and is available in over 30 languages.
In 1990, McCandless graduated from university in Georgia, the US. From a wealthy family, instead of pursuing a career (as most folks do), he handed his $25,000 graduation present to Oxfam and hit the road. The plan was to travel around like a hippy, it seems, but this led to a tragedy by the summer of 1992.
Into the Wild
McCandless’ rejection of structured society and wealth is an interesting consideration. It’s turned his story into a romantic, hippy like dream; a beat generation time of hitting the beaten track and heading out into the wilderness. Sure, it’s a nice idea – there are only so many Excel spreadsheets you can stare at to get your kicks – but it’s one with a tragic ending.
We don’t really consider this a spoiler, as the fate of McCandless is something that draws you into the story. In April of 1992, having toured about without a care in the world (and with his family clueless of his whereabouts), he headed off into the Alaskan wilderness. A fateful decision and one with rather haunting similarities to Werner Herzog’s riveting Grizzly Man.
In the buildup to this decision, he abandoned his car and his possessions, burnt the remaining money in his wallet, and set off into the wilderness. A grand gesture, it seems – a two-fingered salute to the modern world. Except his body was discovered by a hunter within half a year.
Once investigators developed the film from McCandless’ camera, an iconic self-portrait (not a selfie, thankfully) of him bearded and smiling emerged. It’s this image that has come to define his voyage into the unknown.
That’s what this book is all about, though. Documenting the 24 year old’s rejection of the American dream in favour of waltzing through the sweeping landscapes. But how did it all go so wrong? You can either read what is a thought provoking work (full credit to journalist Krakauer for his research), or take in the Hollywood version from 2007.
As for McCandless’ story, we see it as an account of youthful hedonism. But it’s one we can certainly subscribe to – it’s a grand consideration for anyone who is introspective. Throw off the demons of society and embrace the natural world – but, know a thing or two about how to live off the land before you take that trip.
Actor Sean Penn took up the project and directed the film adaptation in 2007. Emile Hirsch got the gig as Christopher McCandless. We remember the film caused a big fuss at the time – we were still students at that point and our peers discussed it like it was a real-life option here in England. Sure! We’re throwing off our shackles, calling this copywriting gig a day, and going to live off the scraps of McDonald’s in Manchester city centre.
Anyway, the film adaptation is an ultra-serious musing on McCandless’ life, with a thoughtful account of his final days thrown in for good measure. If you enjoyed the book, or would rather just watch the film rather than wade through 200 pages, then this is an interesting film that may, or may not, make you want to quit the rat race.