Saturday, April 12, 2008

Out Of The Wild

I'd heard about Christopher McCandliss for years but when the book "Into The Wild" came out I wasn't interested. I remember perusing the Travel section at Barnes and Noble, checking it out. I didn't take long to realize it was an amazing but sad story about a young person with whom I shared a lot of the same ideas and anger.

Like a lot of things that hit too incredibly close to home for me, I didn't like it. My English Composition 201 prof noticed that about me when I refused to write a paper about a movie that we were all supposed to watch and review. He teased me about skeletons rattling around in my closet. I relented and wrote the only essay I've ever earned less than an "A" for. The prof was disappointed that I didn't draw from my painful past experiences to evaluate the movie--he had a feeling that it could have been the best I ever produced. I wasn't ready to be a real writer, which requires drawing from those painful past experiences.

McCandliss, after graduating from Emory, took a few years off to disappear without contacting his family. Although he felt deeply hurt and betrayed by family secrets his parents witheld from him, his choices to cut them off seemed to me to be just as hurtful and selfish. He ended up dying in the Alaska wilderness from starvation (there is a controversy about the plants he ate being poisonous or moldy). The movie, which I just saw, spends a lot of time describing McCandliss's 24 month journey from his apartment in Atlanta to an abandoned bus in Alaska, where he lived for 113 days. I didn't have much sympathy for him when I read about him in the bookstore, and the film hasn't changed my mind very much either. Which is amazing, since I am a softie on an above average level for stories about dreamers and drifters.

McCandliss actually did what I often felt compelled to do in my 20's only to realize tragically that "happiness is only real when shared". In other words, his drive to commune with nature and be isolated from society left him empty inside. Literally. When he was ready to rejoin the human race, he found himself trapped in the wild that he craved. Then it wasn't as fun anymore as he found himself scrounging around for food. Nature is not merciful to the weak and sick. Or to the naive. There is also a controversy about the movie and book depicting McCandliss being totally cut off in Alaska--he wasn't far from a station about 5 miles away that could have helped him back over the river that rose to impassable levels that kept him from crossing to civilization.

Honestly, it makes me feel angry for some reason. I don't know if it's about all my Girl Scout training or a small slender streak of common sense in me. Maybe because I found what McCandliss was looking for in the Gospel. Or that simply I've been too used to happy endings that are epidemic in American movies. Like my English prof, I am disappointed that a potential writer had an profound story to tell, but didn't write it. It would have been nice to read it in his own words instead from someone else's.

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