Monday, September 10, 2007

McCandless: Selfish? Foolish? Mentally ill?

I went to the screening of Sean Penn's Into the Wild last week. The movie is based of Jon Krakauer's book. It's the true story of a rich, well-educated boy who deserts his money, his family, his life, to travel around the U.S. and eventually finds himself struggling to survive in Alaska. He didn't survive. He died of starvation a few months after wandering, stumbling, bumbling into the wild.
I'm not going to go on a whole rant here, but I have to say Chris McCandless was a selfish, selfish guy. He left his parents and his sister, with whom he had a tight relationship with, and didn't give them any indication where he was. He had no contact with them at all. Apparently, he wandered around touching all those he met, changing their lives and making them see the errors of their ways, and yet he left those who loved him the most completely in the dark until they got word of his mysterious death in Alaska. I can completely understand wanting to get away from everyone and everything and I also understand the lure of the North. I've moved thousands of kilometers away from where I grew up, gone to work abroad, but still, I stay in touch with my family, probably not as much as they'd like, but I do. I love them because they are, and always will be, my family. There is no denying it (abusive relationships aside). They are blood and that bond means something. My father has been instilling that in me my whole life and though we have our problems and disagreements, they are my family and I love them. Chris' family worried for nearly two years, but he changed his name, burned his ID and simply disappeared, causing his family grief I can only imagine. What if your son did that to you? Would still think McCandless was a hero? I think not.
I, like many, became enamoured with the book, the whole saga actually. My first winter here I took a team of dogs out the bus to see it for myself. For the record, I didn't see any pants or boots that were apparently left there by McCandless 14 years earlier.
There were things I liked about the film. The scenic shots, the music... Oh, I also liked that it was filmed here in Alaska and employed Alaskans. It has given Alaskans something to be proud of: Alaska.
The film's producers talked repeatedly, with me and other reporters, about the importance of accuracy, but the film was riddled with misleading errors. It is Hollywood, I know, but don't claim it is truth, when it is not. He didn't die from eating potato seeds, he starved. And really now, the scene when he realizes that he ate these seeds and then looks it up in his field guide...give me a break, please. The grizzly bear, the darkness in July...there is more which I won't get into. I interviewed several people who both liked and disliked the film (and the book for that matter) and am looking forward to writing the article. One interviewee brought up the point that McCandless was most likely mentally ill and was disappointed that that wasn't even touched upon in the book or the film. Whatever his reasons or thought process, McCandless is not like 95 percent of people who come here, as one man close to the film said in recent newspaper and radio interviews. Perhaps he meant the sense of wanderlust, which I too have suffered from, but I'm sure that 95 percent of transplants didn't knowingly and purposely hurt, crush, devastate their families to come here. I know I didn't.
Chris McCandless is no hero.

Peace.

6 comments:

aHunkaHunkaBurningLove said...

Cool I'm definitely going to see that movie, I had no idea it was even being made. I'm sure, like you say, it will be full of inaccuracies, such is hollywood. They make films for mass appeal, not for authenticity.

Anonymous said...

Just saw the movie. I agree. For putting his parents and sister through all that time in constant worry without even a one-sentence postcard, he was selfish.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. My younger brother is going through a bizarre rebellion against his family (to a far lesser degree)- which seems to be not unlike Chris McCandless' family. I have no doubt that this film is visually stunning and that Chris McCandless did touch the people, in a very deep way, that he met in his travels. But your assessment that he was selfish and unprepared seems wholly warranted and accurate. Remember, deciding to burn your money is a privilege of the supported and wealthy. It is an insult to every "poor" person who works hard to get all of the things that Chris McCandless so freely rejected.

Sheridan Huntley said...

Aright I agree you that Chris McCandless was indeed not a hero but I do not believe he was mentally ill. I understand why he left for the wild. It was the allure the untouched land where there was no rules or regulations. I think that he wanted the ascetic lifestyle and to find that spiritual connection with the wild that he so often read about and highlighted in books by Henry David Thoreau, Jack London and Leo Tolstoy. I think he was so focused on his odyssey to see and understand the effect it was having on people close to him. McCandless had his faults but he was searching for something much, much greater, something society couldn't give him and in way that redeemed him in my eyes.

You may not agree with my opinion but that's what I interpreted from the novel and film.

Sheridan Huntley said...

Aright I agree you that Chris McCandless was indeed not a hero but I do not believe he was mentally ill. I understand why he left for the wild. It was the allure the untouched land where there was no rules or regulations. I think that he wanted the ascetic lifestyle and to find that spiritual connection with the wild that he so often read about and highlighted in books by Henry David Thoreau, Jack London and Leo Tolstoy. I think he was so focused on his odyssey to see and understand the effect it was having on people close to him. McCandless had his faults but he was searching for something much, much greater, something society couldn't give him and in way that redeemed him in my eyes.

You may not agree with my opinion but that's what I interpreted from the novel and film.

Sheridan Huntley said...

Aright I agree you that Chris McCandless was indeed not a hero but I do not believe he was mentally ill. I understand why he left for the wild. It was the allure the untouched land where there was no rules or regulations. I think that he wanted the ascetic lifestyle and to find that spiritual connection with the wild that he so often read about and highlighted in books by Henry David Thoreau, Jack London and Leo Tolstoy. I think he was so focused on his odyssey to see and understand the effect it was having on people close to him. McCandless had his faults but he was searching for something much, much greater, something society couldn't give him and in way that redeemed him in my eyes.

You may not agree with my opinion but that's what I interpreted from the novel and film.