into the wild

March 8, 2011

community work

I happened upon the movie “Into the Wild” whilst flicking around the channels. It was on late, hidden amongst the flotsam and jetsam of television programming. The description said it was directed by Sean Penn, and as he appears to be a complex character, I thought the movie may be interesting, and recorded it. It sat on the recorder for two weeks, whilst I summoned up the courage to watch it. I hadn’t seen the movie  before, or even heard of it, but I had a feeling it was going to require some head space. I watched it over two sittings.

I am not going to pretend I can write a movie review. The NY Times featured a review written by A.O. Scott in 2007. The movie was based on the nonfiction book of the same title, written by Jon Krakauer.

The movie was a roller coaster of emotions for me. It was joyful, sad, rivetting, disturbing,  and poignant.

Having worked with kids for a long time, I have formed the opinion that if you scratch the surface of some angry boys, underneath you find a sensitive, idealistic, and intelligent child, a deep thinker. They also have some kind of torment,  domestic violence, neglect, or abuse. Often, these kids take on a caretaker role, it may be with siblings, younger children at school, a parent – anyone whom the child senses is vulnerable and in need of care. As they grow older, they may reject care and caring, it hurts too much, and they can be heard to say “I don’t care”. Sensitive boys who have lots of feelings and don’t always have the emotional language to express them, or the opportunity to express them, can have a difficult time negotiating their place in a world where you ‘just get on with it, son’.

When I was working in foster care, I was able to plead the case for therapy for these kids because I could see the pattern so clearly and the first signs of despondency and depression were setting in, with children as young as 7 and 8 years of age.

Beware – Spoilers ahead!

Into the Wild is the story of such a boy. Christopher McCandless came from an emotionally troubled home, he cared for and protected his sister, and he retreated into literature, which later manifested as a need to explore his limits. Instead of turning to drugs and alcohol, he tested himself in wild places and essentially lived as an ascetic. The story does not end well, and there are lots of “if only’s”.

I do wonder what Christopher would have made of his life if he had experienced a family life that was not so dysfunctional. I have read numerous comments on both the movie and the book, and a lot of anger is expressed that Christopher wasted his life by taking stupid risks.  They say, “if only” he had prepared better for his trip into the wild. I think these comments miss the point in some ways. I can’t help but think, “if only” he had been prepared better for life, which can be less than ideal for sensitive and intelligent boys. It’s not my position to blame the parents, they have suffered enough for their inattention. Kids do tend to grow up whilst parents are locked in their own battles. 

What do kids like Christopher need? Somewhere safe and predictable. Someone to accept him and take care of him, and allow him to be a kid who is free from a caretaking role. Someone to listen to what he had to say and how he was feeling. Someone to talk with about what interests him. Someone to support him to make informed decisions. Lots of studies on resilience say that “someone” can be anyone, not just the parents.

In one of his last journal entries, Christopher wrote “lonely, scared”. I suspect that was how he felt his whole life, and he himself possibly was not aware of it, could not acknowledge it, until the very end.

, , , , , , ,

About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

View all posts by hakea


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

18 Comments on “into the wild”

  1. kloppenmum Says:

    I found kids like this all over the place when I was teaching. Not always in the poorest schools, either. That disconnection from the rest of humanity, you speak of, has such huge ramifications for people’s lives. Great post.


    • hakea Says:

      Into the Wild reminded me of another man, Robert Bogucki, who walked 400km in the Australian desert to find God’s peace. Aboriginal elders shook their heads and said “you don’t go there, it’s horrible”. He had few supplies and was found after 43 days. When I saw the documentary Miracles: Miracle in the Desert, I remarked how intelligent and sensitive Robert appeared to be. There also appeared to be some mental health issues. He was one tough fella.

      Into the Wild is one movie I won’t forget in a hurry.


  2. eof737 Says:

    This sounds like an incredibly sad yet touching movie… And not with the typical happy Hollywood ending. I heard about the movie but have not seen it. I am tempted and might catch it on Netflix now that you wrote about it…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Elizabeth

      I wanted a happy ending, very much. It depends which way you look at it. Did he find what he was looking for? I hope he found some peace. I can’t help ponder the possibilities, and feel the deep sadness that those possibilities will never be explored or realised. I think it’s such a powerful story that people turn their sadness and anger back towards the protagonist, rather than examining it at a deeper level for the lessons that can be learnt about how our young people grow up and how their experiences affect their actions and reactions.

      It is beautifully directed and acted, and the narrative is heartbreaking. Have a box of tissues at hand.

      Thanks for your comment.


  3. phrogmom Says:

    i was really affected by this movie too, so much that even thinking about it makes me a little edgy 🙂


  4. eof737 Says:

    No need for that … lol! 🙂


    • hakea Says:


      wait till you see the movie! strangely compelling.


      • hakea Says:

        I have just finished the book “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer. So glad that I read it.

        The book focuses on the facts, but is beautifully written with much compassion and empathy, and with a heart of understanding.

  5. Elena Says:

    I loved this movie as well, so intense! I tried not to take away the heartbreaking tragedy of it, because you just want so badly for this guy not to get kicked again by the universe, but I remember being quite impressed with his example of living intentionally. It’s sad that he met his doom, but we’re all headed for a passage to the other side, one way or another, and how we get there is all we have, really. He walked into it with eyes and heart open, and so in that sense he succeeded brilliantly, in my opinion.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Elena

      You have a lovely way with words. I struggle with words. You have explained exactly what I thought and felt. Yes, he lived with integrity, and didn’t take the easy road.

      Thanks for dropping in and making a comment.


  6. InsideJourneys Says:

    I’ll have to add this to my list. Thanks for your post.


  7. lilzbear Says:

    I’ve heard of this movie, and it’s on my ever growing list of movies I want to see. It’s gotten increasingly difficult to watch a movie in its entirety since becoming a mommy :). We ended up cancelling all of our movie channels and Netflix subscription because it was going to waste. One thing I have noticed about watching movies or any other TV shows since I became a mom is that the perspective of everything is different. I can’t watch certain shows because as a mother it breaks my heart. I wonder if this goes away in time.


    • hakea Says:

      I know what you mean – you don’t get around to watching them, or you only see bits of them.

      I think that once you’re a mum, you don’t lose that perspective. You’re going to be a mum for the rest of your life!


  8. InsideJourneys Says:

    You’re welcome. I Googled it – yes, it is something that would appeal to me.
    Thanks again,


  9. Rashi Says:

    Hakea, I have to watch this movie now! Check out my recent post @


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: