After recently finishing the book Into The Wild written by Jon Krakauer, which I was compelled to read, after watching the fantastic film directed by Sean Penn. Now knowing the tragic story of Chris McCandless was true, I wasn’t totally sure on what to expect from the format of the book. My first instinct was that the book would a recount of what happened as McCandless travelled across America and eventually into Alaska. Which from personal interest I would assume would be boring although the story itself is interesting.
The book opens up as an account of where Chris McCandless went and what he did, for the 2 years after he abandoned his life as exceeding young man, before he ended up in Alaska where he perished. What helped was Krakauer set of detailed descriptions of where McCandless went and what he did. Also using the accounts of people that actually met McCandless on his travels such as the friendly Wayne Westerburg who McCandless worked for during the summer to the account of Ron Franz, a lonely man who taught McCandless a various set of skills. These, in my opinion, are crucial to the book for Krakauer, as it’s one thing to recount the events of what happens, but with the added accounts it makes the story more appealing and attractive.
Firstly watching the film, it was a change of pace as majority of my films do not try to capture the beauty that lies within nature. Sean Penn initially tries to capture what it must have been like for Chris living in the wild, however Penn does well to note that the story isn’t centered around McCandless wiping himself off the face of the Earth. Many of the shots used at covering the landscape, trying to capture the landscape that kept McCandless in awe and what gave him such itchy feet to keep moving about, discovering new places.
Penn also keeps the segments of McCandless meeting the people along the way very short, possibly to suggest how easily Chris had drifted in and out of their lives and seemingly unaffected by the whole encounter with them, aside from Wayne Westerburg who he sent postcards to, from nearly everywhere he went. One thing that would have been impossible for Penn to capture onto the screen would have to be the immense and very busy journey that McCandless actually went on. Picking out the key parts in his journey, such as the sailing into Mexico via a dam, was of course a way to keep the viewer compelled to watch on, the “what happens next” factor more than anything.
A hats off must go to Emile Hirsch though, as during McCandless last few days, it’s unsurprising that he lost a lot of weight, so to reflect this Hirsch actually made his figure to reflect this. His gaunt and sickly body adds to the impact of what McCandless suffered from during his last few weeks alive. This impression is probably one of the more memorable scenes in the film, possibly to make the audience feel uncomfortable and to know what it must have been like when McCandless suffered.
For the book, much like the film, the descriptions of the places by Krakauer places the reader in the spectacle, feeling like your immersed in the world that McCandless had experienced. However, due to implications of course that you can not actually view it like it was film format, Krakauer added more to keep the reader anticipated and to keep them reading on. He did this in the way of interviews with McCandless family, and how they experienced what it was like first hand.
To add to these first hand accounts from his family, Krakauer managed to get in contact with the people such as Wayne Westerburg. This helped portray the character of McCandless that none of his family knew, essentially it was a viewing into McCandless true character, how he felt about things, one famous part would be the description about when he ranted about society to Westerburg in the bar.
One of the most touching accounts in the book would be the account from Ron Franz. This touching accounts bring a different aspect into McCandless character, as he thought he could drift in and out of lifes as easily as he pleased, however, this was not the case as the touching scene, in both book and film where Ron offers to adopt McCandless as Ron made him see new life, just showing the impact of McCandless’ good nature and friendliness managed to affect Ron this much. (There is more to the story than I explained, but you must read it to get the full effect)
These first hand accounts of McCandless are not the only extra incentive that Krakauer has added. To keep the reader impulsed to read on, he has added other accounts of what happened to people whilst on the similar adventure as McCandless. The accounts include the story of Everett Ruess who went missing whilst out on an adventure in Utah desert. He studies these stories in depth and compares the similar and differences in the character. What is surprising thought, as reading it I expected that Jon Krakauer, in the bluntest terms, was coming from a background that had not known what it is to travel, however, Krakauer nearly met an end himself as he attempted to climb The Devil’s Thumb, an ice glacier in Alaska.
I do not want to ramble on about the book too much as I would give away some details in which you should discover for yourself as I would highly recommend you read this book if you enjoy being immersed and with it being a short book, it is not a challenging read, it is more of an easy read to relax with. Especially if you enjoyed the read, then I would highly recommend the film. The narrative structure is very basic but simple enough if you know the story by reading Into The Wild, but it ultimately is the spectacle with the shots Penn has chosen that can show the true beauty of the world we live in. But also the direction by Penn for the characters with their short segments showing two things, the short relationships McCandless had with the people he met, but also signifying that McCandless can be considered a lonely man with the length of his relationships being so short and leaving before he became attached (although that is stated more so in the book, not the film, but a very important point all the same)
Thank you for reading, hopefully you have enjoyed this, it’s been a while coming.
Any comments or feedback is highly appreciated!