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Author Topic: Into the Wild
Reed
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Thereís a movie based on the book by Jon Krakauer coming out today. It's directed by Sean Penn. Reviews are good.

Itís about a guy from an upper-middle-class suburb of DC who decided to drop out of society and become a hobo after college. He hitched around the country, doing on jobs and meeting a variety of interesting characters. Then he eventually starved to death while trying to live off the land in Alaska.

I've been meaning to read it for over 10 years, but I just started reading it two days ago. I was compelled to get on it because I want to read it before seeing the film.

I read Krakauer's original Outside article on McCandless in 1993 and was totally freaked out by it, because at that time I could really relate to the desire to just run away.

The story kicked up a lot of controversy. Alaskans in particular didn't like the idea that Krakauer seemed to paint an admiring picture of a guy who's own carelessness (stupidity? hubris?) got him killed in the bush of Alaska.

Apparently, there are a lot more people who have "dropped out of society" like this in the US than I would have thought. I always thought it would be hard to live Kerouac style these days. I figured you'd probably get tossed in jail so often by cops who hate "drifters" not to mention get beat up by hippie-hating rednecks. There is some of that in McCandless' tale, but it's remarkable how many other hobos, "tramps," and other wanderers he meets out west.

McCandless' story is not entirely unique, and Krakauer talks about some other similar cases on record. However, McCandless wrote a diary and a lot of letters, so his journey is documented.

He's a fascinating character. Full of contradictions. He was very bright and well read, but had certain "gaps in his thinking," a friend of his aptly explains. He wasn't incompetant. If he was, he wouldn't have lasted as long in the wilderness as he did, but he did make a few bone-headed mistakes and was woefully underprepared. He wasn't insane, but he certainly had "issues." Its clear that, at least at the very end, he didn't want to die, but before heading into the woods, he indicated to some friends in letters that he understood it was a distinct possibility. He was kind to the people and dogs that he met, but wasn't particularly fair to his parents (even though they had/have a lot of faults too.) He seemed to be looking for something that he couldn't find, and yet he also seemed very content and serene.


Krakauer is the sort of writer I wish I could be. Unfortunately, I have trouble turning inspiration into work. I get sidetracked by all the 9,000 things going on in my head at once.

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Inca
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quote:
Apparently, there are a lot more people who have "dropped out of society" like this in the US than I would have thought. I always thought it would be hard to live Kerouac style these days. I figured you'd probably get tossed in jail so often by cops who hate "drifters" not to mention get beat up by hippie-hating rednecks. There is some of that in McCandless' tale, but it's remarkable how many other hobos, "tramps," and other wanderers he meets out west.
I used to work with a guy that was interested in "going off the grid". I'm not sure how much he is similar to people that drift around, but he started into some alternative diets--he wasn't exactly a raw foodist, but he got rid of his refrigerator and would only eat stuff that would stay good on their own.

I'd really like to see this movie. There are a few other serious" men facing big decision" movies I'd like to see that are out now--this, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Two of those are obvious Westerns, but I think Into The Wild, while not a Western in the cowboy/Wild West sense, seems to be about the lure of the wilderness associated with the West.

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Reed
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I weant to see all those movies too.

I'd like to live somewhere remote in the woods, but I don't think I could deal with no hot water or a toilet that didn't flush.


The odd thing about McCandless is that he seemed to prefer what I, at least, consider to be the more boring and desolate bits of the west. He spent a lot of time in South Dakota and a bunch of time around Salton Sea and that area south of Las Vegas which, as far as I can tell, is perhaps the most desolate god-forsaken land in this country.

[ 21.09.2007, 19:15: Message edited by: Reed ]

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jason voorhees
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I'm sorry, but I've seen a million movies about people who dropped out of society and lived happily ever after. I'd most definitely like to see one about some guy who did what 99% of us would do in the same circumstances: Starve to Death.
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Reed
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"but I've seen a million movies about people who dropped out of society and lived happily ever after."

Such as? I'm not disputing you. It certainly seems like I've seen movies like that, but I just can't think of any at the moment.

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jason voorhees
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Hell, start with Swiss Family Robison and Robinson Crusoe.
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Reed
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They didn't drop out of society deliberately.
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Ginger Yellow
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Jon Hodgman's The Areas Of My Expertise is full of (made up) facts and legends about hoboes, who turn out to be his main area of expertise. You should find it very funny if the idea fascinates you.
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Reed
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I don't want to drop out of society. I just want a little more space between me and the rest of it.

Also, why I think living a bit "closer to the land" would do all of us some good, there is a limit. Good hygiene, safety and sanitation are a credit to our species and ought not be discarded.

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hobbes
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I get agoraphobic if I can't see a building of at least 2 stories and a tarmac road.
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Inca
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quote:
bunch of time around Salton Sea and that area south of Las Vegas which, as far as I can tell, is perhaps the most desolate god-forsaken land in this country.
A description of the Salton Sea from this week's LA Weekly:

quote:
Vincent DíOnofrioís creepy plastic nose is pretty much all I remember from the movie The Salton Sea, even more so than Val Kilmerís scene chewing. That nose keeps popping into my head as my boyfriend and I make our way across the desert from our friendís cozy house in Twentynine Palms toward the real Salton Sea, which, thanks to a century-old, man-made ecological disaster that left the Colorado River draining unchecked into the Salton Sink for two years, is the largest lake in California. As we drive, I watch for burned-out meth labs and radiation-deformed people who might abduct and torture us. (Donít watch The Hills Have Eyes before a desert road trip.) I imagine a cruel and inhospitable place, ransacked and ravaged. Iím excited. Thereís beauty in places like that.

Finally at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, we pull into the parking lot of a boarded-up hotel. Ignoring the Do Not Enter sign, we walk past a swing set and slide that are half consumed by sand, and make it to the waterís edge, where hundreds of dead tilapia in various stages of decomposition lap against the shore. At a nearby picnic table we find discarded brochures touting the area as a tourist spot: Boats are available; you can even fish. Never mind the odor, says the brochure, itís most likely coming from Mexico. And, sure, thereís raw sewage emptying in from the Colorado River, but itís so far up shore, youíre safe.

We notice a bar just up the road from the hotel ó its sign is missing letters and one of its windows is broken. We ask the bartender, who has lived there since the í50s, why sheís stayed on when it looks like everyone else left.

ďI wanted to live near the beach,Ē she says.


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Loose Cannon ?
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I read that Krakauer book - my boss lent it to me, he enjoyed it which amazed me as he's about as square as you can find - a fascinating read that gives an insight into the alternative lifestyle on the far fringes of society as we know it.
Krakauer's narration of his own adventure climbing a peak in Alaska was hilarious (he burnt down his tent while smoking a celebratory cigar if I recall).

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Reed
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The celebratory cigar was doobage. He didn't burn down the tent, but he did burn a big hole in it.

I just finished it. Still haven't seen the movie, but I want to. Charlie Rose did a great interview with director Sean Penn and Eddie Vedder, who did the music. Sean Penn had lots of cooperation from the family, so it appears that the critics who claim the film is unfair to Walt and Billie McCandless are just wrong. For example, Slate's critic said that the inclusion of a flashback where Chris' dad his his mom was an almost unforgiveable bit of artistic license. She assumes that just because that was in the book, that it didn't happen and was just an attempt to oversimplify why Chris didn't get along with his dad. But then, in the comments section after the review, Chris's sister (or somebody plausibly claiming to be his sister) says that in fact, their dad did hit their mom and that she was involved in helping Sean Penn write that scene.

I finished the book two days ago and have been thinking about little else since I finished it. In some ways, I'm a lot like that guy, and in some ways, I'm the exact opposite, but I can definitely relate to having that feeling that I was born with a compass oriented just a few degrees off of everyone else's.

It seems like a lot of people who rail about what a dumbass McCandless was are totally missing the point.

***********spoiler************

McCandless' mistakes he made weren't as stupid as it seemed initially when Krakauer wrote the Outside article.

He failed to realize that the river that he forded in the spring, would not be crossable at that point in the summer. He didn't know there was a zipline thingy downstream a bit, but then when he saw in the summer that the water was too high, he just figured he could come back in the fall, so he didn't bother to keep looking. There was no reason for him to expect there to be that crossing thingy that the researchers left and he had no reason to think, at that point, that he would be dead by fall.

The other major mistake - and this was sort of stupid - was that he tried to build a meat smoker for the moose he shot, because that's what some hunters had said to do - instead of turning it into moose jerky, which was really the only way to cure that meat in the wild. But at least he had tried to figure it out.

He was eating a lot of stuff. Unfortunately, he wasn't getting enough calories. All the small game he was eating was too lean and then the Moose rotted. Then he ate the seeds from a wild potato plant and that poisoned him. From Krakauer's explanation, is appears he'd have had to have done a lot of research beforehand to have known that that could happen to him.

He'd survived on nothing but a sack of rice and the fish he caught when he was living in Mexico a year before, so it was not an unreasonable assumption that he could do just as well in a place with lots of wild game and plants to eat.

So he didn't just die from stupidity or hubris. That's too simple. He made an attempt to learn what he would need to know, he simply didn't know what he didn't know and there weren't really any resources to tell him otherwise. Nobody else had ever done what he was attempting - living off the land in that area - except some indians and the info he had on the indians there made it seem like they did just fine living off of the land. As literature on native peoples often does, what he read probably gave an overly romanticized view of their lifestyle and failed to mention how common disease and starvation were among those people.

He knew that what he was doing was very dangerous. He didn't take a map because he wanted the challenge of figuring it out on his own. He knew going in that he was deliberately creating a higher degree of difficulty for himsel and and that the margin for error was thin and that he might die. As Krakauer explains, comparing McCandless' Alaskan adveture to his own solo expedition on the Devil's Thumb, the obsession with testing one's self and risking death is not uncommon in young men (or women, to some extent).

McCandless wasn't any more reckless or naive than lots and lots of young people. He's just famous because he died and because he left such thorough documentation.

[ 25.09.2007, 21:27: Message edited by: Reed ]

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Reed
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I finally got around to seeing this.

It's a fantastic film and a fairly good retelling of the book, although I think it distorts the story a little. If one sees the film and doesn't read the book, one could conclude that McCandless' unusual behavior was all about rebelling against his parents. The book makes it clear that insofar as his motivations can be understood at all, they certainly cannot be simplified to that sort of lazy cod-Freudianism.

Based on all the interviews I've read, I don't think Sean Penn meant to do that, but it could be read that way.

Perhaps new information from his family came to light between the writing of the book and the screenplay. For example, the scene where his dad whacks his mom was not in the book and, as I said above, some critics thought it was a bit of superfluous Hollywood/Oprah/Dr. Phil bullshit. However, his sister confirms that scene really happened more or less exactly how it appears in the film.

Either way, this story has affected me deeply. I find that I love people but don't care much for The People or our civilization. But I don't think I could ever abandon the people I love the way he did. Or live in such filth.

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RobW
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Watched this over the weekend and enjoyed it. Sort of an accompanying piece (i thought) to 'Grizzly Man', though McCandless was a little smarter.
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