Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Happiness is only real...when shared

Its 26 May 2010...I just finished watching the movie “Into the Wild” ... many words can describe this dark drama as it plays out across the US and comes to its conclusion in the wilds of Alaska…however perplexing and disturbing are two terms that readily come to mind for me!

From a Readers Digest point of view the movie follows a young man who rejects the society that gave him so much; constant internal and external battles with his parents and ultimately a two year hike across the US before deciding to venture to Alaska where he ultimately starves to death. The End!

But there is so much more to this story then what I have just illuminated.

Into the Wild chronicles Christopher McCandless, the doomed Emory University graduate who tossed everything away to live the life of a hopeful vagabond crossing America in the early 1990’s. He scribbled the memorable quote...”happiness is only real...when shared” …while close to death from starvation in rural Alaska where he had been living for months.


The colorful, yet way too short life of McCandless is chronicled in Jon Krakauer's book (same name as the movie) and can be literally interpreted as a spoiled kid posturing through a pretentious rebellion against his troubled, yet privileged, youth. I take the opposite view however…as I see McCandless executing his own rebellion in an attempt to exorcise his past by experiencing life on his own romantic Thoreau-inspired terms...and I also credit him with having the wherewithal to do so.

McCandless is presented in both the book and the movie as somewhat of a tragic figure: a bountiful life full of individualistic adventures and internal searching; a life where his passion for living touched all he encountered…yet ended with his solitary death in a mammoth wilderness so far from those he cared about.

This, however, doesn't make his journey seem like a waste. To the contrary, until his lonely passing, the paths McCandless chose crammed a lifetime of passion into his short time among us. Hollywood has a way of romanticizing heroes, but with Krakauer's investigative techniques (he also authored The Dead Zone) there was no question that those with whom McCandless shared his nomadic quest were touched by the young man's enthusiastic zeal. The hippie couple who saw him as a younger vessel of themselves; the wild farmer (played by Vince Vaughn) whose wild ways were somewhat tempered by the naivety of McCandless, and the elderly religious widower (played by Hal Holbrook) whose lonely life was turned right-side-up by McCandless as the embodiment of a son whose life was lost decades earlier to a drunk driver.

In viewing the movie one sees that McCandless paints a strong and often spiritual significance where the book makes little or no mention of this apostolic aspect. Christ-like imagery of McCandles floating naked down a river in a crucifix pose; the hippies asking if he could walk on water; and an emotional scene on a mountain where the widower and McCandless touch on “the nature of God” …all of these moments (not to mention the last few minutes depicted of McCandless' life) point to a deeply felt appreciation of a divine touch in our own lives as well as the life of McCandless.

It's also telling that in the book the widower vehemently renounced God when he learned of the young man's lonely passing. Having left that piece out of the movie shows that, despite one sad man's disillusionment, the life of Christopher McCandless was somewhat of a spiritual touchstone for those that new him and should not have been overlooked.

In the End...

Having read the book as part of a psychology class I was taking several years ago and now having time to look at the movie one can easily see that McCandless embodied true individualism…and ran to Alaska in an effort to escape both a materialistic lifestyle as well as social entrapment…all the while seeking a peaceful and individual existence.

Look around us today…everyone is pursuing a college degree, a decent internship, a good post graduate school, a good salary, a good car, a good house, a better salary, a better car and a bigger house, and on and on...but McCandless’ core question still remains…”what is the meaning of life?”

I watched this movie and found some very poignant moments as well as some very candid questions that we as individuals and as a society need to ask ourselves…and truthfully answer.

I thought about myself and my kids as this movie played out on the screen…and how would I answer the question “what is the meaning of life?”

I don’t know the answer but with what I saw on the screen today as well as read in the book…and obviously for McCandless…simply making a difference in the lives of the individuals you come in touch with becomes the meaning of “happiness is only real…when shared”

As my time plays out…I can only hope that this is true…


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