I watched the film, Into the Wild, last night on DVD. It is one of the best movies I've seen in many years. The screenplay, written by Sean Penn, is based on author Jon Krakauer's book, a true story of Christopher McCandless, top student and athlete, who, after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1992, abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity, takes off on a two year journey around the country and finally achieves his ultimate goal, walking alone into the Alaskan wilderness. Four months later, after arriving in that wilderness, he turns up dead. His diary, letters and two notes found at a remote campsite tell of his desperate effort to survive, stranded by an injury and slowly starving because of accidentally eating toxic seed pods.
The movie swept me away in the innocence, stubbornness and beauty of a young man who wants to Live with a capital "L," who wants to feel his aliveness in a world of technological nightmare and noise and striving and consumerism. This story made me think of Eckhart Tolle's philosophy. Yes, we live in a world that is, most of the time, completely out of touch with nature, and, therefore, out of touch with what makes living on earth a joy instead of a constant battle of how to get the next dime or the fancier car, get more and more and more and more. The world is run by fear, greed, and the desire for power. This is also the central and incessant conflict in personal relationships. Some of us tire of it more easily than others. Some of us were raised in a family where this incessant drama/conflict was the main atmosphere of what is called "home."
Christopher McCandless' aesthetic adventure, as he called it, was also motivated by his pain-body, a term used by Tolle in his books, The Power of Now and A New Earth. Tolle states, "Because of the human tendency to perpetuate old emotion, almost everyone carries in his or her energy field an accumulation of old emotional pain, which I call the pain-body."
We hang on to the old emotion because it strengthens our ego-identity, even as it causes us tremendous pain, anxiety, depression, physical illness, and often kills us.
Much of Eckhart Tolle's philosophy discusses how to become aware of this pain-body, realize it is not who you are, it is not your identity, and how to live more in Presence, in the present moment, in the joy of being alive in this moment.
When we go to a psychiatrist or a therapist, a good one anyway, what we are trying to do is face the pain-body and dissolve the negative emotions from the past. As writers of fiction, we are involved in describing for our readers the character's pain-body. Without the pain-body, (trouble), there wouldn't be any stories. Well, that's another subject, but the arc of the pain-body and its resolution (or not) is the backbone of all fiction.
So back to young Christopher McCandless' journey. I don't think what I have to say here will interrupt your experience in watching this film. The story is much deeper than the plot.
How I see it: this young man wanted to escape his pain-body, (and his unconscious parents and their drama), and live, live in Presence, live in the joy of the moment, in nature, in Being. One of the quotes in the movie that moved me the most is when Christopher tells a friend along the way, a very lonely old man, "People think the joy of life is only in human relationships, but that's not true. It's all around us, and God put it everywhere."
I have always agreed with this, but then I came from a family of constant drama and unconscious action and conflict, so I desperately wanted to get out on my own and find happiness somewhere other than in relationships. And I did find that happiness, in nature, in poetry, in sports, in just being quiet alone, in a spacious stillness.
Christopher's friend lost his wife and child thirty-five years ago when a drunk driver hit their car. The man has hidden himself away in this grief all these years. Christopher is saying to him: "Get out of that dark house, travel, experience, not everything beautiful resides in a relationship." The old man sees the wisdom in his young friend's advice, but he says to Christopher: "When you forgive, you love, and when you love, God's light shines on you."
Christopher couldn't forgive his parents, and this is partly why he goes so far away from humanity, and becomes, as he writes in his diary, "trapped in the wild."
When he's very close to death, he writes: "Happiness isn't real unless it's shared." Christopher never got the chance to forgive or perhaps he was on his way, but he died before he could make it back to society and continue the process toward that light.
Tolle writes in A New Earth: "Even if both your parents were enlightened, you would still find yourself growing up in a largely unconscious world."
It is easy to understand why someone with Christopher's sensitivities and family history would want to escape from such a world.
The film is deeply gorgeous for many other reasons, in the simple depiction of the beauty in nature, the buoyant energy of youth, the hope of discovery, of living in conscious Presence, in love and peace.
It took me many years to want to live in this world as it is and not disappear into the wilderness. I think, sometimes, I am still working on it. I choose to be alone often. However, I've made a lasting peace with my father, I have a wonderful relationship with my husband and two sisters, all my nieces and nephews (my family is getting huge now, I'm off today to see my new niece who was born on Sunday) and a few friends. Becoming a teacher helped me find my way back to humanity, seeing young people every day who want to live to live to live, their heart-felt passion to feel what matters, to feel their lives. They inspired me to give the very best of myself, to become more conscious so I had something worth offering them, to show them the wisdom in books that showed me the path toward a life of possible joy. "Happiness isn't real unless it's shared." "When you forgive, you love, and when you love, God's light shines on you." And yes, joy is all around us, it is everywhere. We have to lift the veil. This is not easy. These great films and books help make the lifting lighter.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society