SOUL SEARCHING

SOUL SEARCHING MOVIE 2

INTO THE WILD

INTO THE WILD

SUMMARY

After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

DETAILS

Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.

A young man leaves his middle class existence in pursuit of freedom from relationships and obligation. Giving up his home, family, all possessions but the few he carried on his back and donating all his savings to charity Christopher McCandless (Hirsch) embarks on a journey throughout America. His eventual aim is to travel into Alaska, into the wild, to spend time with nature, with ‘real’ existence, away from the trappings of the modern world.


In the 20 months leading up to his Great Alaskan Adventure his travels lead him on a path of self-discovery, to examine and appreciate the world around him and to reflect on and heal from his troubled childhood and parents’ sordid and abusive relationship. When he reaches Alaska he finds he has been insufficiently prepared for the hardships to come. Despite making it through the winter his plan is ill-judged and prepares to return home in spring, only to find the stream he crossed in the snow has become an impassable raging torrent and that he is trapped. With no means of sustaining himself adequately he eventually starves to death in his so sought after isolation.

Throughout his epic journey the people he meets both influence and are influenced by the person he is and bring him to the eventual and tragic realization that “Happiness is only real when shared”.

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INTRO

For the 2007 film adaptation of the book, see Into The Wild (film)

Into the Wild (1996) by Jon Krakauer is a bestselling non-fiction book about the adventures of Christopher McCandless. It is an expansion of Krakauer’s 9,000-word article, “Death of an Innocent”, which appeared in the January 1993 issue of Outside.

Krakauer intersperses McCandless’s story with a discussion of the wilderness experiences of people such as John Muir and John Menlove Edwards as well as some of his own adventures. Krakauer first went to Alaska in 1974 and has returned there twenty times since. He spent three years carrying out the background research work for this biography.

The book has been adapted into a movie of the same name directed by Sean Penn with Emile Hirsch starring as McCandless. The film’s U.S. release date was Sept 21, 2007.

BACKGROUND

Chris McCandless grew up in Annandale, Virginia and died at age 24 in a wilderness area of the state of Alaska. After graduating in 1990 from Emory University. McCandless ceased communicating with his family, gave away his savings of $25,000 to OXFAM and began traveling, later abandoning his car and burning all the money in his wallet.

In April 1992, Jim Gallien gave McCandless a ride to the  Stampede Trail in Alaska. There McCandless headed down the snow-covered trail to begin an odyssey with only ten pounds of rice, a .22 calibre rifle, a camera, several boxes of rifle rounds, some camping gear, and a small selection of literature—including a field guide to the region’s edible plants, Tana’ina Plantlore. He took no map or compass. He died sometime in August, and his decomposed body was found in early September by moose hunters.


BIOGRAPHY

The book begins with the discovery of McCandless’s body

inside an abandoned bus and retraces his travels during the two years he was missing.

Christopher shed his real name early in his journey, adopting the moniker “Alexander Supertramp”. He spent time in Carthage, South Dakota with a man named Wayne Westerberg (until Wayne’s eventual arrest for satellite piracy by the FBI), and in Slab City, California with Jan Burres and her boyfriend Bob.

Krakauer interprets McCandless’ intensely ascetic personality as possibly influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, and his favorite writer, Jack London. He explores the similarities between McCandless’ experiences and motivations and his own as a young man, recounting in detail his own attempt to climb Devils Thumb in Alaska. He also relates the stories of some other young men who vanished into the wilderness, such as Everett Ruess, an artist and wanderer who went missing in the Utan desert during 1934 at age 20. In addition, he describes at some length the grief and puzzlement of McCandless’s family and friends.

McCandless survived for approximately 112 days in the Alaskan wilderness, foraging for edible roots and berries, shooting an assortment of game—including a moose—and keeping a journal. Although he planned to hike to the coast, the boggy terrain of summer proved too difficult and he decided instead to camp in a derelict bus.

In July, he tried to leave, only to find the route blocked by high water. Toward the end of July, after apparently remaining healthy for more than three months, McCandless wrote a journal entry reporting extreme weakness and blaming it on “potatoe seeds”. As Krakauer explains, McCandless had been eating the roots of Hedysarum alpinum, a historically edible plant commonly known as wild potato (also “Eskimo potato”), which are sweet and nourishing in the spring but later become too tough to eat. When this happened, McCandless may have attempted to eat the seeds instead. Krakauer theorizes that the seeds contained a poisonous alkaloid, possibly swainsonine (the toxic chemical in locoweed) or something similar. In addition to neurological symptoms such as weakness and loss of coordination, the poison causes starvation by blocking nutrient metabolism in the body.

According to Krakauer, a well-nourished person might consume the seeds and survive because the body can use its stores of glucose and amino acids to rid itself of the poison. Since McCandless lived on a diet of rice, lean meat, and wild plants and had less than 10% body fat when he died, Krakauer theorized he was likely unable to fend off the toxins.

However, when the Eskimo potatoes from the area around the bus were later tested in a laboratory of the University of Alaska Fairbanks by Dr. Thomas Clausen, toxins were not found. Roots of wild potato were used extensively by Aboriginal people, eaten both raw and cooked and used as a licorice substitute. Inuit hunters eat wild potato roots while hunting.

In the most recent edition of his book, Krakauer has slightly modified his theory regarding the cause of McCandless’ death. He believes the seeds of the wild potato had been moldy, and it is the mold that contributed to the seeds’ toxicity. The exact cause of the young man’s death remains open to question. McCandless may simply have starved to death, a theory backed by the fact that McCandless’ body weighed an estimated 67 pounds at the time it was discovered.

A timeline of McCandless’ travels

1990 June: Leaves Atlanta, Georgia after graduation;

July 6: Lake Mead National Recreation Area;

July 10: Begins hiking around Lake Mead;

End of July: Picked up by “Crazy” Ernie and goes to northern California;

August: Orick, California, meets the Burreses;

September: Carthage, South Dakota, works for Wayne Westerberg

October: Needles, California then to Topock, Arizona where he begins a canoe trip down the Colorado River

1991 January 11: caught in a storm off the coast of Mexico;

January 18: cross the United States border illegally;

February 3: goes to Los Angeles “to get an I.D.”;

February 24: returns to Lake Mead to retrieve items he had buried;

February 27: Las Vegas; works at an Italian restaurant;

May: Leaves Las Vegas;

July-August: Oregon Coast;

September: Bullhead City, Arizona; works at McDonalds and opens a savings account, mentions in letters that he might finally settle down;

December: Niland, California, meets back up with the Burreses, helps them at flea markets at “Slab City“;

1992 January: Salton Sea; meets Ronald Franz;

February: Carthage, South Dakot, works for Wayne Westerberg;

February: San Diego to get supplies for trip to Alaska;

March 5: Seattle;

Early March: Coachella, California; calls Franz and asks to be picked up;

March 14: Franz drops him off in Grand Junction, Colorado;

April 18: Whitefish, Montana;

April 27: Fairbanks, Alaska;

April 28: begins walking the Stampede Trail

August 18: Dies at Age 24.

September 6: body discovered on the Stampede Trail.

FILM INFO

INTO THE WILD (FILM)

A film based on the book, and having the same title, received a limited release in September 2007 and a wide release in October of that year. Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam) was asked to create the soundtrack, on which he contributed several solo efforts, and the film was directed by Sean Penn.

The film gives the impression that McCandless’ death was accidental, suggesting that he mistook one plant for another. Additionally, certain plot points are slightly modified to fit the traditional narrative structure of film, as well as to fit time constraints. The film emphasizes, and in some cases exaggerates, certain aspects of personal relationships that McCandless experienced, including his parents’ domestic conflicts and his own interaction with a 16-year-old girl he met in his travels. Other interactions portrayed in the film, however, seem very accurate based on Krakauer’s research, including the characters of Jan Burres, played by Catherine Keener, and “Ronald Franz” (pseudonym), played by Hal Holbrook.

McCandless’s story is also the subject of a recent documentary by Ron Lamothe named The Call of the Wild. In his study of McCandless’ death, Lamothe concludes that McCandless starved to death and was not poisoned by eating the seeds of the wild pea.


One Response to “SOUL SEARCHING”

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