Thursday, January 23, 2014

Winter Reading: Into the Wild

I finished my first book of the year with mixed feelings. I had difficulty getting beyond my disdain for the poor choices made by the real life central character Chris McCandless.  Jon Krakauer made a sympathetic case for his choices and did a good job filling in the gaps of what McCandless may have been thinking.

Krakauer wisely asks the reader to consider the passionate mindset of youth and young men in particular. I tried to go there in my mind but remained more than a bit stuck in the head of an adult who finds the everyday challenge enough. I also struggled with the place of privilege McCandless was coming from, it is not every college graduate who can finish school scott free and then give away a trust fund before hitting the road.

Much of McCandless's adventure could of have been undertaken without causing pain to his family or losing his life. But then maybe his disappearance was to a great deal more about escaping his family and society than about taking on the wilderness. 

I followed the book by watching Sean Penn's film adaption which left me far more sympathetic to this young man. Penn managed to successfully portray a family dynamic that might lead a young person to feel their only way out was to abandon their life. 

Watching the film I was able to suddenly remember the extremes that go through the mind of teenagers. The all or nothing thinking and the hyper dramatic cast that colors young thoughts. McCandless was not a teenager but a college graduate. In many ways though he seemed stuck in a younger view point. The four years spent in college are for many an uncoupling from their parents. An experience that allows a young person to put time and space between themselves and their parents and start on the path to an independent life. 

And that is where the film allowed me to find sympathy for Chris McCandless in the way the book hadn't. While Krakauer describes in some detail the family dynamic, Penn and his actors created in a few scenes a sense of the unhappiness that lay beneath the shiny upper middle class surface. 

The overbearing quality of the adults and the nastiness of their interactions had me wanting to run. I could understand the appeal of leaving that behind to tramp around the country with other wanderers. What I still can't imagine is hiking alone into the Alaskan Wild. That is where say farewell and God Bless to Chris McCandless. 

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