I enjoyed watching the film last night which I have to say is wonderfully directed with some excellent cinematography. I read a little about the background to the ‘true’ story behind the film one finds two popular criticisms. The first is a somewhat irrelevant speculation over exactly how McCandless died. More importantly there seem to be two camps of opinion regarding his Alaskan adventure. For some he is a martyr to the wilds but for other he was a moron.
I think the impulse McCandless felt for the wilds is something many of us share. In my own experience trekking around Kejimujik for just three days on my own the wilds are truly an alien place for mankind. The beauty of nature was breathtaking but also it felt very impersonal. Nature is in many ways an alien and indifferent force for a modern man. After three days in the wilderness the comfort and company of society certainly has appeal despite all of its hypocrisy and superficiality.
What I think the two schools of thought on McCandless capture is two sides of the human psyche. To enter the wilderness with minimum preparation forces one to act and think on one’s feet. It exposes the individual to the life and death reality from which our social and technological artifice cloaks us. The desire to experience this is strong and primal. On the other hand we live in this abstract world and are able to protect ourselves and to think and rationalise by ourselves. To ignore the rational side of our existence is also to ignore a part of our humanity. My own conclusion is McCandless should be admired for his drive but equally his quest was naïve;
“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war: wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it might never live to regret it”
- Carlos Castaneda
The most revealing fact about his true story was that when his body and bag were found it was revealed that he in fact had $300 in cash and all of his IDs hidden deep on his bag. To my mind this is a perfect symbol to show how we can try to deny and escape our rationality but its seed always clings on somewhere deep inside.