Into the Wild – the film

June 16, 2008 at 10:38 am (books, Film and television) ()

Last month I wrote about the book Into the Wild. We finally had a chance to see the film last night, and I feel like my heart got broken all over again.

I was angry at Chris McCandless almost the entire time I was listening to the audiobook. He seemed like an out-of-control narcissist with impossibly grand notions about his personal destiny. Only as his sad, pathetic end became imminent did my ire begin to subside. In the film, though, right from the beginning he comes across as a rather appealing person, a free spirit with a generous heart.

Generous, that is, except where is parents were concerned. It was as if cutting off all contact with them (as well as with his sister Carine, whom he professed to love) gave him the power to hurt them that he seemed to crave. But – in recompense for what injury, exactly? In the film, the McCandlesses are shown to have engaged in some knock- down- drag-out battles when Chris and Carine were young children. (This is something I don’t remember from the book.) In addition, during the summer between his high school graduation and his freshman year at Emory University, Chris found out that his father Walt had not been fully disengaged from his first wife when he began a family with Chris’s mother Billie. (She ultimately became Walt’s second wife when he finally obtained a divorce.)

“That meant we were bastards!”, or words to that effect, are uttered at that point by Carine in a voice-over narration that I found to be one of the films few weak features. As for the implication that this revelation caused Chris to reject his parents, I don’t buy it. I think he was looking to justify a rejection that was already happening; the story of the early infidelity was as good a reason as any, in his young mind, to heap contempt on the heads of two people whom he already viewed as hopelessly compromised by their bourgeous suburban existence.

And there’s one other thing. Walt McCandless was a brilliant, accomplished engineer. I think that Chris was afraid that if he chose to compete in any way with Walt, he might not measure up. As a father, Walt McCandless appears to have been somewhat judgmental and rather stern, possibly remote in his aspect – in other words, not in the mold of the touchy-feely, postfeminist Dad. ( I just re-read the last sentence and realized that I could be describing my own father. Perhaps because I was a daughter, and a somewhat sickly one at that, I managed to get enough caring from him to satisfy my needs. He and my mother were cruelly ravaged by old age, and I drew close to him at the end. It was an unexpected gift. )

Into the Wild depicts Chris McCandless’s slow, agonizing death with unsparing realism. It was hard to watch – I was riveted but at the same time wanted desperately to avert my eyes until it was finished. My husband and I both felt that Emile Hirsch, in the title role, was completely convincing.

In her review in Salon, Stephanie Zacharek informs us that Jon Krakauer ceded his book’s film rights to Chris McCandless’s parents. I believe that those rights are worth a great deal of money, and I admire Krakauer for that generous, gracious concession. Likewise, Sean Penn deserves praise for waiting patiently until Walt and Billie McCandless were ready for the story of their son’s brief life to be told on film. Penn has amply rewarded their trust with this meticulously crafted, gorgeously photographed work.

[Emile Hirsch as Christopher Johnson McCandless]


  1. Troy Bradley said,

    Very well done movie! It makes you rethink your life alittle to whats really important and the fact that we focus on material things just alittle too much, instead of living and appreiating more. The only thing I think he did was wrong was to keep his family totally in the dark of his where abouts and well being. It sounded like his family maybe had a few more issues than most, but nothing deserving what he did.

  2. Favorite nonfiction of 2008 « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. My “blog stats” indicate an enormous continuing interest in the all-too-brief life of Chris McCandless. A reader recently wrote an exceptionally blunt, emotionally honest response to my post on this book. His words helped me to understand why the story of this young man’s unorthodox life and premature death means so much to so many readers (and viewers of the film). […]

  3. “His choice to stay in the city had been God’s will.” – Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] on the part of the author is, I think, admirable and generous. (It reminds me of one made by Jon Krakauer in similar circumstances.) So by all means read Zeitoun – and consider purchasing the book as […]

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