How many times in my life have I thought it?
Dozens, perhaps, maybe more. During times I'm fed up with the rigors of work, or the common stresses of life. When I've felt overwhelmed as a father, and inept as a husband. I've even thought it when things were going well; when I simply needed the creative energy it produced, or the brief mental respite the fantasy created.
"I'm gonna drop out of this rat race, move to [insert name of remote, faraway place here] and live off the land."
It's a terrific fantasy, and I generally dwell on it for a little while before I recognize the flaws in my thinking. (1) I know very little about living off the land, (2) I rather like things like cable TV, DVD's, the Internet and piped-in heat, (3) While growing up on the semi-functional farm of my youth, slaughtering animals for food was my least favorite activity and something I'd be no good at as an adult, and (4) Social awkwardness aside, I generally like people and enjoy the company of others.
For these reasons (and others), at the end of the day I know my fantasy is just that: a day dream that gets me through whatever-it-is-that's-nagging-me, and helps me to relax until the next existential crisis comes a-knockin'.
But for Chris McCandless, the dream was real.
Into The Wild tells the true story of McCandless, a kid who grew up with material privilege and within a family of dysfunction. The son of emotionally distant and abusive parents who led him to believe lies about their relationship and his heritage, McCandless graduated from Emory University and then decided to follow his dream. In order to get off the grid, he donates his college fund dollars to charity, destroys all forms of his identification, abandons his car and burns his remaining cash. Working his way West, McCandless lives off the land or earns money from small odd jobs in order to survive, and to save money for his ultimate goal: to spend time, alone and living off the land, in remote Alaska.
Sean Penn, who wrote the script and directed the film, stayed fairly true to many of the important accounts of McCandless' travels and adventures. One of the main themes of Into The Wild is the importance of living more in the moment. Planning and worrying about tomorrow or fretting about yesterday causes unhappiness; staying in the present--enjoying the beauty of the moment--allows one to appreciate life more fully and with a greater sense of contentment. The second theme is about the importance of having a social connection. This is a profound revelation for McCandless near the end of the film. He reaches his goal, finds it unsatisfying, and concludes (and I'm paraphrasing): "True happiness is reached only through sharing with others."
His is a classic example of: "Be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it."
There is a debate about whether the real-life McCandless was heroic or stupid to hike into Alaska unprepared, and there is even some substantial evidence he may have had a mental illness. While those debates are interesting, they take nothing away from the enjoyment of this movie. Penn's film is shot beautifully, takes it's time revealing who McCandless is as a person and boasts a kick-ass soundtrack.
Into The Wild may romanticize his adventure, perhaps, more than the real-life version. But it makes for a wonderful story you can't afford to miss.