I first read Into the Wild in 2008, and not long after that I saw the movie as well. Chris McCandless was an intriguing person; like many others, what drew me to his story was his utter devotion to solitude and his rejection of possessions, money, and even titles and recognition. The thing is, I'm only human, and I'm honest enough to admit that I could never come even remotely close to walking away from all of those things with the idea in my head that I'd probably never come back to them. But McCandless? He tried so hard that he literally gave (or is 'lost' a better word here?) his life for his beliefs.
Personally, I'm in the "wow, what he wanted and tried to do was admirable, but the fact that he basically died because he knowingly walked into the wilderness unprepared was decidedly not admirable" camp. And to be honest I probably lean toward the latter end of that thought; while I don't understand those who outright ostracize Chris McCandless, my sympathies probably lie a bit more with them than with those who glorify him.
That said - and not that my opinion here really matters, per se, but I'm going to put it out there anyway - he wasn't a bad person. A bit ignorant, perhaps, but from everything I've read it is clear that he was modest and that he really did put a vast amount of importance on truth, on absolute honesty. I myself feel the same way, but often struggle with the act of being entirely truthful and absolutely honest.
Though I think that Jon Krakauer did a decent job of telling McCandless's story - and though I agreed with many of the conclusions he drew - the questions left unanswered (despite pages upon pages of conjecture) are what kept me from giving this book a better rating. Basically, I felt as if Krakauer would use hundreds - and sometimes even thousands - of words to explain a theory, only to turn around and refute it with what he actually believed happened. And personally this made me feel as if the book had far too many 'filler pages' - that the author was trying to make the book longer and in doing so not actually presenting any worthwhile information. Because of this, upon first reading Into the Wild I could only bring myself to rate it 3/5 stars.
However, recently there has been more research into Krakauer's main theory regarding the death of Chris McCandless, and I was quite interested to find that a new article had been published about it in The New Yorker - by none other than Krakauer himself. I'm hoping that the findings detailed in this article - that there is essentially proof that McCandless was in fact 'poisoned' (for lack of a better word) by something that would have been safe for him to eat in most circumstances - will lead to a revision of Into the Wild (the book). Because while there are still chinks in the story, the information about the problems wild-potato seeds can cause someone who is in McCandless's weakened state should serve to not just round out the story that Krakauer tells, but also dampen the attitudes of at least some detractors.
Another thing that I think is important to note is the information brought to light about the McCandless family history, most notably in Chris's younger sister's Carine's open letter that is posted on the website Chris McCandless: Now I Walk Into the Wild. I won't go into detail here because this isn't my story to tell, but suffice it to say that there is a lot of vague information and outright misinformation out there about the nearly charmed upbringing that Chris McCandless supposedly experienced - and with a bit more insight into his family life, it's a lot easier to understand why he wanted to step away from society, find himself, experience the beauty and the solitude and the serenity of nature.
The following are some quotes from Into the Wild that really spoke to me. I may not have the strength of character that Chris McCandless had (though I think it's also that I'm not quite so willfully ignorant about the dangers of trying to live off the land completely by myself in a harsh environment), but it's damn near impossible to read these and not want to reach for something bigger than myself, to measure myself, to give in to my passion for adventure, to live for truth and truth alone, to lose myself for a while.
To live intensely and richly.
"...you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances."
“Some people feel like they don't deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past.”
“I read somewhere... how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong... to measure yourself at least once.”
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
“We like companionship, see, but we can't stand to be around people for very long. So we go get ourselves lost, come back for a while, then get the hell out again.”
"I have some good friends here, but no one who really understands why I am here or what I do. I don't know of anyone...who would have more than a partial understanding; I have gone too far alone.
I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly."-Everett Ruess(via Into the Wild)