Sunday, February 1, 2009

Into the Wild

Almost exactly one year ago, at the beginning of January 2008, I flew home, to Israel, for a visit. I can't recall why, but it felt like that trip just wasn't supposed to happen. The timing looked right when I bought the ticket, but as time went on I felt that I shouldn't be taking that trip. Very bizarre feeling, as I am always very happy to visit home.

Anyway, I figured that if I am going to be on this aircraft for more than 10 hours straight, might as well try feeling good about this entire thing. It was one of those new 767's with the personal touch-screen digital TV.

As I was wandering aimlessly through the movie titles, mostly Hollywood material (ugh), I came across this title called "Into the Wild". The description mentioned that the movie was based on a true story about a guy who spent some time in Alaska. I figured - hey, I like traveling, and Alaska is one of the places I'd like to go visit soon - so this may just be the movie to watch.

And so I started watching it.

I don't know how many of you have had the opportunity to watch a movie in an airplane using regular on-the-ear headphones (the ones they give you for free), but let me save you the trouble - don't even try. The engines' roar makes it nearly impossible to listen to the dialogues, let alone concentrate fully on the movie. I could barely understand what's going on before I decided to put an end to it after about 20 minutes of watching.

But something did remain in my head long after I stopped watching the movie - this dark, mesmerizing song. I had to find out what this song was, and who performed it – the engine’s noise made it impossible to tell. Shortly after I arrived home, I got my hands on the movie's soundtrack, only to realize that it was composed, almost entirely, by Eddie Vedder.

That brought up some distant, high school memories.

I went to high school in the summer of 1992; the year before, 1991, was the 90’s music year. Metallica's "Black Album", Guns n' Roses' "Use Your Illusion", U2's "Achtung Baby", Nirvana's "Nevermind", Pearl Jam's "Ten", Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Blood Sugar Sex Magik", Van Halen's "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" - were all released within a few months' span in 1991.

Eddie Vedder’s voice was no news to me – damn, what a great voice – however the music in the soundtrack album was very different than the typical Pearl Jam material.

The song I was looking for turned out to be called "Long Nights". I found the entire soundtrack to be great - I loved it.

I got around to watch the movie a few months later, in the comfort of my own home: the engines’ roar was replaced by the chilling silence of the small neighbourhood I live in; the cheap $1 airline headphones was replaced by very modest, though powerful Bose Companion 3 desktop speakers.

As I happened to do the stupid mistake of reading the plot ahead of time, the end didn't come as a huge shock to me. But this movie does make you think.

(This is the time to ask whoever intends to watch the movie to skip the rest of this post as it may ruin it)

I found the story behind the movie extremely intriguing. At first I could not understand how it is possible for a person to get rid of all of his material belongings and simply drift away, putting his own life at stake in such ridiculously hazardous situations just in order to feel more and more connected to the earth and more and more disconnected from what he called “artificial” and we call “society”.

It took some serious thinking to grasp the true meaning and power of what he did. The guy simply flipped a middle finger in the face of whatever “society” taught him is “the right way”; relentlessly seeking the “absolute truth”, he realized that the only things absolute on this planet are exactly those things that mankind did not build or invent for itself. Whatever mankind has built or invented for itself is automatically deemed “artificial” and “unnatural”; “Society” is a concept invented by humans in order to grant humans the ability to live with each other through compromise; he questioned the validity of the mere idea of “Society”, and he questioned it through simply living off the land, drifting away and watch where life takes him.

Another reason why the movie appealed to me was that I found many similarities between McCandless’ character and mine. I can relate to the adrenaline rush that gets to you when you travel alone; to the euphoria achieved by always being on the move, when things happen, when I explore. A backpack fastened against my waist turns me into a completely different person. So yes, I may not be courageous enough to live off porcupines and squirrels in the wilds of Alaska, but I can see his point and I totally identify with it.

Also, his tendency to attempt to judge people and situations in absolute, clear-cut ways through extremely high standards – which was what made him denounce society altogether – is a tendency that I have myself, and it’s really hard to get rid of.

Impressed by the movie, I went after the sources. The movie is based on the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer, who dedicated a significant amount of time to look into Chris' story in detail. A tenant of mine named Matt happened to have borrowed the book from somewhere, and left the book as a souvenir when he moved out, so I started reading it. The book adds lots of useful information about the story, however I’d recommend reading it after you seen the movie.

And now, to my rants.

It turns out that, once the story was initially told by Jon Krakauer in the “Outside” magazine way back then, many people – especially Alaskan – have expressed extremely negative opinions about Chris. Disagreeing with him on some things that he did is acceptable, however some comments went as far as calling the man an idiot, careless son of a bitch that deserved to die the way he did; that he was careless, arrogant, and so forth. After all, they claim, it’s very stupid for someone to die of starvation a few miles away from a major highway that crosses the park he was in; and if he was clever enough to have a map with him, he would notice that a few miles north of where he died, there was a tram that he could have used to cross the river that locked him in where he is, costing him is life.

One airhead went as far as posting a blog article, basically saying that Chris was an extremely stupid individual, deserved to die and it’s a good thing that nature has made its selection and eliminated Chris’ seed off the planet.

I say – these guys simply got it all wrong. Whoever focuses on the irony of the story and on his arrogance and ignorance of the concept of “bush safety”, simply didn’t get the point of the story.

Chris went into the wild, determined to make it there on his own. He wanted to live life in Alaska as it was lived hundreds and thousands of years ago – just him and nature. No maps, no other “extras”. He wanted to live life simply off the land. It was his choice to not pick a map, and he didn’t blame anybody but himself when he realized that he’s almost certainly going to die. He took an extremely demanding challenge; I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the disregarding and disrespectful comments were from people who didn’t have even one tenth of Chris’ courage.

(It has been determined that Chris died due to starvation – the question is whether it was due to him not finding any food, or – as per Jon Krakaeur’s conviction - due to consuming some sort of a poisonous seed that makes the body unable to digest food)

About a month or so after watching the movie, I went on the Kill to Get Crimson tour, following Mark Knopfler and the band. I was travelling, for the most part, alone – meeting new people along the way; much like McCandless, only that I didn’t have to hunt for squirrels and porcupines in order to feed myself. Driving through the vast distances alone, thoughts of McCandless kept creeping into my mind.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite films, also soundtrack is very good.
I get at and share both your and Chris point of view, but sometimes I spotted a bit of arrogance and selfishness in his diary comments: MAN is a social animal after all and deserves at least sympathy in the original sense, i.e. to feel with.Furthermore freedom is not absolute but ends there where it collides with someone else freedom. Said that and pardoned him some contradictions, I respect and admire Chris choice so far as he takes the responsability of it, always and till the end: which he did. so far, daria