As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been thinking again about the story of Into the Wild. I went back and dug up something I wrote a year or two ago in an attempt to lay down my response to the film. It was hard to watch, but it sure got me thinking. Here are my thoughts.
This past week I watched the film Into the Wild (dir. Sean Penn, 2007). If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s taken from Jon Krakauer’s book which tells the true story of the young Chris McCandless. After college, Chris renounces his life as he’s known it, renames himself Alexander Supertramp, and journeys into the wilderness (in all senses) and an eventual, tragic death at the age of 24.
I got into a discussion at work about it and heard comments like “how selfish, what a waste, senseless,” etc. Yes – and no. Even if we allow that it’s a “selfish waste,” I can still admire his struggle, still sense the challenge it presents to our own lives and world. In Chris’s case, I can’t help but think that his struggle was just off-course enough to mean an endless beating against the wind, a tack right into its teeth. Sure, the art of elimination knifes off all the stuff and junk that clutters and clouds our inner worlds – call it society, people, money and materialism, idols, desires, careers, what have you. But when everything is stripped away in the name of “Truth,” what’s left?
In the end, capital-t Truth can be as merciless a tyrant as any other, leaving you weak, pale, pitiful, and cold. It, too, demands your death, but it remains to be seen whether your death will bring any new life or be just the final, too-familiar flameout of a once-brilliant torch. Closer to the heart of things, I think that the very part of us that has to be better, be right, be moral, alone be strong or feel strong, or alone be true – that part has to die as well. If it doesn’t, it becomes another petty god, a sham-idol in the jam-packed temple of humanity. And idols don’t give life.
It’s not the wild that kills the devil in me for the sake of Truth, but I think Alex/Chris figured that out. It might reveal it, make me face it, but merely being in extremis doesn’t bring liberation. The real liberation comes when all our strivings only further tighten the cords and we realize that we have to die in order to live. The truth is, someone has died for me and in that death is the power to die to myself and live for others. Without love, Truth – however piercing, however beautiful – is only so much noise. Someone far wiser than I wrote that truth is not known unless it is loved. I think of some of Alex’/Chris’ final words: “in God’s name someone help me please …”
In God’s name, someone has helped us, someone has loved us – and showed us the fullest extent of that Love. That one is also the Truth. May God help us all.