9.20.2007

Into the Wild

I read Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild six years ago. It's a gripping narrative about an idealist named Christopher McCandless who forsakes a comfortable piece of the American pie for the lure of the open road.

Krakauer's amazing narrative of a disastrous expedition up Mt. Everest (Into Thin Air) is some of the finest narrative non-fiction I've ever read. He applies his clear-eyed prose to McCandless' story here, and the short book flies by in just a few hours.

Krakauer clearly admires McCandless, an athlete and college graduate who gives his savings to charity and hitchhikes from Atlanta to Alaska. But Krakauer doesn't sugarcoat McCandless' missteps upon reaching the Yukon Territory. The resulting narrative is truly an interesting dichotomy. It praises the qualities that we all should admire in McCandless-his generosity, his independence, his sincere interest in meeting others and experiencing the mysteries just beyond the horizon. And he doesn't pull any punches in recounting McCandless' hubris and the errors he made that ultimately led to his death.

In the final analysis, Krakauer applauds McCandless for his vision and his intent to touch the lives of others in a lasting and meaningful way. Its a tribute that the young man deserves, based on all I've learned of the circumstances surrounding his life and his death (and there's a lot out there on the web-both positive and negative).

Sean Penn has adapted the book for the big screen. He made The Crossing Guard (excellent) and The Pledge (good). Both are studies in obsession, and you could say that was the character trait (the tragic one) that pushed Chris McCandless along that path to Alaska. Sure, it was curiosity. It was wanderlust. It was an insatiable hunger to test oneself.

But obsession is the thread that holds these qualities in place.

The film checks in at 2 hours and 27 minutes. The book is 224 pages. That's an interesting disparity in terms of length, and while I'm hoping the film will do the book justice, I worry that Krakauer's sense of pacing will be lost in overlong scenes of introspection and self-analysis.

I'll have to take a look at it to find out, of course. Any of you that have read the book or look at the movie over the weekend, please let us know what you think.

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