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Film / Into the Wild

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"Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An ascetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, 'cause "the West is the best." And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild."

Into the Wild is a 2007 Biopic written and directed by Sean Penn, based on the 1996 nonfiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer about the adventures of Christopher Johnson McCandless, portrayed by Emile Hirsch.

The book and movie chronicle the life of Chris as a young man resentful of society and his family, who decides after graduating college to spend a few years travelling around and living off the land in Alaska. The book is written from the perspective of Posthumous Narration and serves as a How We Got Here look at Chris's brief life and final days.

Because the story's premise — that the protagonist leaves society, tries living on his own and ends up dying — is invokedso well-known, there is no need to mark it as a spoiler.

Not to be confused with the first book of the Warrior Cats series. Compare with the film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, effectively the distaff version of this story, but with the woman approaching her soul journey with a bit more intelligence.

The book and film provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film was released in 2007 and is set from 1990 to 1992.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Chris' father, compared to the book. The novel Into the Wild mentioned that he did commit bigamy with his old family, but doesn't go into much detail, and also gives no evidence of any physical abuse from his father to his mother as in the movie, and his parents in general are a lot less authoritarian. Chris' siblings, however, have since stated in interviews and in sister Carine's book that the film version is the real story; Carine has explained that she wasn't ready back then at the age of 21 to talk about their family's complicated situation.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Tracy, a girl who had a crush on McCandless, was briefly mentioned in the book. In the movie, she is given more screen time.
  • An Aesop: "Happiness is only real when shared."
  • Apocalyptic Log: The diary Chris leaves behind, including a note begging for help from anyone coming across his encampment.
  • Big Town Boredom: One of the best real life examples of this trope, Chris is from the suburbs but wants to go and live in the wild. Ultimately however, it doesn't work out for him.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The scene where Chris is eating a wild apple and he says how delicious, natural and organic it is, then he stares and gesticulates directly to the camera.
  • Brutal Honesty: Touched on in the book, but commonly found in those who found his body, or the police who handled the investigation. The experienced hunters who found him make it clear they feel Chris owns all the blame for getting himself into such a situation. One of the state troopers who oversaw the investigation wrote a lengthy article for an Alaska newspaper, where he flat-out states that what Chris did basically amounted to suicide.
  • Challenge Seeker: Part of the allure of living in the wild of Alaska for Chris is just to see if he can do it, and in his journal he celebrated his 100th day there.
  • Character Development: Chris eventually realizes the importance of relationships and how he idealized isolation and natural life, but it comes too late to save him.
  • City Mouse: Chris is pretty unprepared to actually live off the land: even with the training and advice he got from the people on the way up North he still makes rookie mistakes.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Where are all the fucking animals?! I'M FUCKING HUNGRY!"
    • Although it's probably not intentional on Sean Penn's part (he did everything he could to turn Chris into a near-legendary figure), this scene of his desperation and frustration only serves to highlight how naive and unprepared he was. He thought there would be animals and plenty to eat everywhere, and therefore didn't bring any real provisions. Prey animals are very good at hiding and keeping out of sight, and predators equally so. The one moose he managed to kill went completely to waste, the meat rotted due to his having no idea how to properly preserve it. Let's not even get into how much effort it takes to gather enough edible wild plants to provide even one half-way decent meal.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: After botching the moose meat, we see Chris floating in the river (completely naked) with his arms extended upwards.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam wrote the soundtrack.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Kerouac beatnik lifestyle. Chris experiences the immense freedom of living without boundaries or connections to the world but is also shown as hopelessly naive about his plan and incredibly unprepared to deal with the real consequences of his decisions. In the end, he dies because the society he so loathed was the only thing really protecting him, and one of his last full efforts was an attempt to return to it.
  • Defector from Decadence: Chris' father was an aerospace engineer and his family was quite wealthy. Before starting his journey, he had originally planned to go to law school with money he had saved.
  • Dies Wide Open: This film depict his death this way.
  • Domestic Abuse: Chris' father beats down his mom.
  • Doomed Protagonist: As per the Foregone Conclusion.
  • Downer Ending: Chris dies a sad, slow, stupid death after completely underestimating nature's brutality and uncaring, unromantic force. His last revelations are about how he wants to return to his friends and family, but it's too late. Afterwards, his family is devastated by his loss. And even after all of that, there are still those who want to emulate him.
  • Dying as Yourself: Invoked in one of his last words.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Admittedly the McCandless family wasn't perfect. Mr. McCandless had a second wife (who he was secretly still married to) and children that he visited, and he and Mrs. McCandless got into fights.
  • Family Theme Naming: Chris and his sister Carine.
  • Fanservice: The cute Danish girl Chris meets, who spends her entire scene topless.
  • The Film of the Book: The film was originally a nonfiction book about the real-life case.
  • Fond Memories That Could Have Been: His Dying Dream.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Before the movie came out, pretty much the only thing everyone knew about it was: rich kid wanders off into the woods, lives in a bus, dies. It's even on the cover of the book.
  • Green Aesop: Chris thinks this is the point of his journey. He's wrong.
  • Happiness Realized Too Late: As he stays trapped and isolated in a remote Alaskan wilderness, Chris has an epiphany that the happiness he was searching for was with his family and all the people he met on his travels, concluding in his journal that "Happiness only real when shared." Unfortunately it's too late for him to reunite with them, and he dies from a mixture of poisoning and starvation soon after.
  • The Hero Dies: Again, invoked—. you probably know this already.
  • Hope Spot: Chris realizes belatedly that he wants to return to his friends and family and tries to leave the wilderness, but the stream he's crossed to get there has grown too violent and he sadly accepts his fate. (Note that it wasn't impossible for him to leave had he taken another route, but he was woefully unprepared without the map that would have told him so)
  • How We Got Here: The book begins with the last time Chris was seen alive and essentially traces back everything that happened up to his death. Similarly, the film starts with Chris reaching his destination in Alaska before getting into his life and journey.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: A lot of the people Chris befriended are notably more than a decade older than him. (Middle-aged hippie couple Jan and Rainy, Cool Old Guy Ron and 30-something Wayne).
  • Irony: McCandless leaves in part to get away from his family, but the people he meets in his journey all develop a sort of familial attachment to him, and in the end, one of his last messages is "happiness is only real when shared".
  • It's the Journey That Counts: One of Chris' philosophies.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Chris, due to both parental problems as well as being at odds with what he views as materialistic life.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Progressively as the movie goes on. Chris was even called Jesus at one point.
  • Meet Cute: Chris and Tracy.
  • Mood Whiplash: During the last scenes of the movie, which alternate between the happy times of Chris with Ron and his final days in Alaska as he starves to death.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: The protagonist doesn't realize this until far too late.
  • The '90s: The movie is set from 1990-1992, when the actual events took place.
  • No Antagonist: Except Chris himself, and the full wrath of the Alaskan nature.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A "bull" (railroad policeman) lays one on Chris and tells him that if he ever sees him on a train again he'll kill him.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Chris, weakened by hunger, struggles up the hill to the bus and suddenly freezes because there's a massive bear not ten feet away.
    • A heavy one when Chris realizes he's eaten something poisonous.
  • Peaceful in Death: Chris's death is portrayed this way. (Granted, in real life, his body had decomposed for weeks before it was found, but that isn't as romantic of a portrayal)
  • The Place: Most of the film is set into the wild.
  • Random Transportation: Chris more or less traveled where life took him, traveling primarily by hitchhiking and hopping trains.
  • River of Insanity: Despite dangerous situations beforehand, Chris is initially thrilled to be living off the land in Alaska and surrounded by isolation and a gorgeous landscape. In a matter of months when his supplies start to run out and he finds himself completely unprepared for the realities of surviving in the wilderness, it gradually becomes apparent how screwed he is, especially when he's blocked from (what he believes to be) his one escape back home by an actual river.
  • Road Trip Plot: About 65% of the film is set on the road.
  • Scenery Porn: The film is set in Alaska, so there are many shots of beautiful Alaskan wilderness.
    • The site of the bus where Chris died is nowhere near where they filmed the movie. The actual site is flat and marshy and has many mosquitoes. It is also too remote for filming so the movie used a location near the last village on the trail which is more mountainous and conforms more to the idealized image of Alaska.
  • Secret Other Family: The book mentions that one reason for McCandless's resentment of his parents is that he discovered that his father was already married to another woman and had a family with her: it implies that the other family was kept secret, though according to Carine's book they were fully aware of each other growing up; the kids had just always assumed that they'd been divorced and that the affair was long over, which turned out to not be the case.
  • Ship Tease: With Tracy. Nothing really happens between them.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: For all the philosophizing and martyrdom, Chris accomplishes basically nothing, realizing too late that he belongs in the material world he loathed and nature doesn't care at all about keeping you alive.
  • Solo Side Project: Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) did the soundtrack of this movie as a solo project, while still being a part of his band.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: A young college graduate that leaves all his possessions and goes on a hitchhiking trip, engages in reckless and risky behavior but manages to prevail thanks to sheer luck and happy coincidences, and then decides to go to Alaska "to live off the land" with no wilderness survival training whatsoever, refusing help from strangers, or to carry a compass or even a map. It ends just as you expect.
  • Take That!: The film makes a very pointy jab at Burger King: Shots of unhealthy food being deep fried? Check. A morbidly obese kid ravenously eating a burger? Check. A shot of a sign that says "It's okay to waste fries"? Check. Chris' manager asking him to wear socks at work? Check.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Despite having great academical intelligence, Chris isn't quite as smart about living in the wild as he thinks he is, going into a rough territory unknown to him without equipment like an axe or high-caliber rifle, or something so basic as a map of the area. With it, Chris would have known that there was a bridge less than 10 miles away to use to cross the river to get to civilization, or that he was 3/4ths of a mile away from a hand-operated tramway that crossed the stream. His cause of death from autopsy results was determined to be starvation, although from Chris' notes about feeling weak due to wild potato seeds, Jon Krakauer originally theorized that he may have died from a toxic deadly look-alike, which is what was portrayed in the film. (Krakauer later looked into the toxicity of the correct plant's seeds and as of 2015 suspects that an amino acid in them may have contributed, rather than Chris mistaking the plant). There is also a theory that Chris ingested some toxic mushrooms he'd photographed, which also might've contributed to his death.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The intended angle for Chris' portrayal in the movie.
    Rainey: You're not Jesus, are you?
  • Tragic Mistake: Had Chris simply brought a map, he could've found a way past the raging river, and returned to civilization.
  • Übermensch: Chris himself.
  • Walking the Earth: Ranging from Mexico to inhabited Alaska.
  • Wanderlust Song: Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack includes these, such as "King of the Road" by Roger Miller.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Chris' relationship with his father is like this in some ways.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: The general opinion expressed by people the author interviews.