Into the Wild, Damn Him
I am very angry with Christopher Johnson McCandless. Very angry indeed.
You see, he pulled me into his life and made his cheerleader, his champion, his mother and his friend. He made me care about him. And then he died.
The official cause of death is listed as starvation, but if you ask me, the real culprit was stupidity. Well, perhaps I can more kindly attribute it to naivete and recklessness. After all...we were all 23 once, and who among us did not do incredibly foolhardy things at 23?
But still...he had so much going for him and he pissed it away. The waste is too much for a mother to bear, even if he wasn't my child. I can't imagine how his own mother must feel, knowing all that he could have been.
How do you make peace with that, as a parent?
I know...you're asking yourself, Who is Christopher Johnson McCandless?
Christopher Johnson McCandless was a 23 year old Emory University Graduate whose life was the basis for the 2007 movie "Into the Wild." After graduation, he divested himself of all his worldy posessions, including $24,000 in cash that was earmarked for law school, and disappeared.
His parents mounted a search, of course...what parents wouldn't? They did not find McCandless, but they did find several very significant clues that led them to the realization that his vanishing act had been purposeful and well planned.
He was contemptuous of the materialism, consumerism, and all the other isms that contemporary society had imposed upon him and so, he decided to leave them all behind.
I can appreciate that. Who doesn't get weary of the rat race from time to time? Who can't appreciate the allure of being free of all the societal restraints and underpinnings that bog us down, drag us under and hold us hostage?
Sometimes, I think that Randy Weaver had the right idea when he absconded to Ruby Ridge. Not...you know...the dealing in illegal arms and killing and dying part, but the retreating from society part. The living off the land part. The communing and being one with nature part. The not consuming earth's precious resources part. The not being plugged in, turned on and tuned out, part.
I always felt kind of sorry for Randy Weaver for how all that turned out. I mean, I know he was a criminal and a racist, but the way that all went down was really reprehensible. His kids and his wife didn't have to die.
But I digress.
Christopher Johnson McCandless adopted the moniker "Alexander Supertramp" and traversed the country on a remarkable journey of self-discovery, existential realization, and emotional growth. He met amazing people, he saw amazing things.
What a story, man. What a an incredible, freaking experience. Most of us will never get the opportunity to do what he did, for various reasons.
Near the end of his journey, he decided to retreat from society completely rather than just living on the fringe. So he headed to Alaksa, toward some of the most wild and unforgiving terrain in the U.S. to try his hand at living off the land.
That's not the stupid part. That's really kind of cool, and you have to appreciate the sheer unmitigated testicular gigantism that it takes to do such a thing.
But the kid did not make even the most basic preparations, or equip himself with the most basic equipment necessary to undertake such a journey.
A man named John Gallien, who dropped McCandless off at the head of the Stampede Trail in April 1992, begged him to reconsider, or at least defer his trip until he could better prepare for such a grueling excursion. McCandless refused, but accepted the gift of a pair of rubber boots from Gallien.
Later, Gallien told investigators that all McCandless had with him was a 10 pound bag of rice, a .22 rifle, a book on local plant life, several other books, and some basic camping equipment.
He didn't have a compass or a detailed topographical map of the area, which would prove to be a fatal mistake.
He found an abandonded bus and set up camp. There he lived in Thoreau like solitude for several months. But it wasn't quite as idyllic or as easy as he had anticipated. In July, starving, ill, lonely and defeated, he decided his journey had come to an end, and tried to hike back to civilization.
What he hadn't considered, was that the spring thaw had caused the Teklanika River, which he had forded easily in April, to swell and swiften. His escape route was impassible. And I think that's when he began to realize he was doomed. He headed back to the "Magic Bus" and I think, gave up.
As I watched the movie, I was unaware of his fate, having never heard of Christopher Johnson McCandless before. And I kept hoping for his salvation, never, ever believing that the life of this brilliant, courageous, beautiful and stupid young man, would end in such ignoble inconsequence.
He died in that bus. Alone. And let me tell you something...I was really pissed off at him.
How would his parents ever know what happened to him? What about the people he touched along the way, who cared about him and whom expected their lives to intersect again someday? Who would tell his story? How would the world ever know that near the end, he had realized..."Happiness only real when shared".
SIGH. It really upset me. Especially after I later found out that there was a hand operated tram 1/4 mile upriver from where he attempted to cross. He would have known that, had he equipped himself with a detailed map, or done a thorough reconaissance of the area.
I don't often react that strongly to movies, but I suppose, it was just a glaring reminder that my own son is poised on the brink of manhood. And though perhaps becoming physically mature, will take a long time to grow into the man he is destined to be. And that along the way, he will make a lot of mistakes, any one of which, could result in him being taken from me.
One wrong move, one detour, one foolish decision..or...even just the whims of fate...could end his life.
My husband almost killed himself when he was 17 years old. He had a souped up Camaro with an engine far too powerful for a smug little 17 year old pissante. He wrapped it around a tree, airborne at 100 miles an hour.
I think when at last he was fully recovered, his mother was sorely tempted to end his life herself.
The stupidity, the invincibility, the sheer arrogance and ignorance and idealism and bravado....God. It's a wonder that ANY of us make it to adulthood.
And now I have to watch my boys do all the foolish things I did. Worse, I have to let them do it. Because if I don't, they will resent me and perhaps, as Christopher Johnson McCandless did to his parents, turn their backs on everything I have tried to give them.
So anyway...I was angry with Christopher McCandless. For dying, for wasting his life, his brilliance and all his gifts, but probably, most profoundly, for making me afraid.
I'm still angry with him. Maybe he was the one who could have found a cure for cancer, or invented a time machine, or brought peace to warring nations. Who knows?
The really disturbing thing is that he is being idolized and deified for his actions. How many young men, intrigued by the romance of McCandless' journey, will follow in his footsteps?
Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian has said "I am exposed continually to what I will call the ‘McCandless Phenomenon.’ People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent. When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he [had] had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament. Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide."
Christopher Johnson McCandless's final written words were,
"I have had a happy life, and thank the Lord. Good Bye and may God bless all."
They were written on the backside of a page he had torn from a book. The page contained an excerpt from the poem "Wise Men In Their Bad Hours" by Robinson Jeffrers.
Something more equal to centuries
Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.
The mountains are dead stone, the people
Admire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,
The mountains are not softened or troubled
And a few dead men's thoughts have the same temper