The short life of 24-year-old self-styled adventurer Chris McCandless, chronicled in a best-selling book by Jon Krakauer, became an inspiration for young people seeking to reconnect with nature and face the world on their own terms. The true story is now a feature film adapted from the book and directed by Sean Penn. Alan Silverman has a look at Into The Wild.
Chris McCandless was born into American suburban comfort, growing up in Northern Virginia and graduating with honors from a prestigious university. He is supposed to go on to law school, but abruptly decides to reject what he considers the materialism of his parents' dreams for him.
To Chris it is a big deal. He donates the $20,000 in his college fund to world hunger relief and, adopting the nickname 'Alexander Supertramp,' sets off on a back roads journey that takes him from the wheat fields of the American midwest to the barrios of northern Mexico and, ultimately, to the continent's last great wilderness.
With no survival equipment, no camping gear and not even a compass, McCandless treks off the beaten path near Denali National Park. He happens upon the hulk of an abandoned school bus and that makeshift shelter becomes his solitary home for almost four months - the last four months of his life.
"He was a very, very smart guy who really made the circumstances for his survival to be very difficult by design. He wanted to be in the most challenging survival environment that he could get," explains Emile Hirsch, who stars as Chris McCandles.
"The movie does not present him as a flawless hero and I think one of the keys to McCandless is that he is not a perfect person," he adds. "This is not a glorification of Chris, in my opinion. This is a story about a real, complicated person who had virtues and he also had problems."
"The point of this thing is the heroism of his will and the courage that this young man had. All the rest of it is somebody else's folly for me," director Sean Penn says.
Penn took a quest of his own: a 10-year journey from when he first read the book that took him to meet the McCandless family in Virginia and then retrace the path Chris took on his travels, meeting the friends the young man made along the way. Penn angrily dismisses critics who say Chris made fatal mistakes that could have - should have - been avoided, such as not taking a map with him on his final trek into the Alaskan wilderness.
"This is a guy who wanted to challenge himself in a way that for us to judge would just be ridiculous," says Penn. "He could have gone out there naked in the woods. You go out there and challenge yourself the way that you want to challenge yourself; but I think that this isn't about whether there was more equipment to be bought at Patagonia, it is about somebody who had a will that is so uncommon today ...a lack of addiction to comfort that is so uncommon and is so necessary to become common or humankind does not survive the next century."
Into the Wild features William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden as Chris McCandless's parents. Jena Malone plays his beloved sister Carine. Some of the people he meets on his journey are played by Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn and Hal Holbrook. Director Penn uses the actual locations and his longtime friend, Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, provides original music to complement the remarkable journey of the young adventurer Into the Wild.