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.