Millo's Musings

Chris McCandless Was a Moron Who Deserved to Die

07 August 2020
An Alaskan army helicopter removes the Into The Wild bus from the wilderness

Is it okay to hate a movie you’ve never seen? I say yes: if the movie is Into the Wild.

I’ve long held a grudge against this 2007 flick, so I was pleased to see it make the news recently for the right reason: the derelict bus in the photo above, made famous by the film, has been removed from its remote location by Alaskan authorities. Fans of Into The Wild might mourn the loss, but the rest of us can rejoice, because what you see in that picture is the world becoming less stupid.

Into the Wild tells the true story of Chris McCandless (muh-CANNED-liss), a man who died in 1992 after he tried and failed - failed hard - to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. Immortalised by Hollywood, McCandless is an inspiration to many - but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I might not have seen the movie, but I’ve looked up the backstory, and I’ve learned enough to know that I don’t want to know any more.

Let’s start with the facts. After graduating university, a 22 year-old McCandless set off travelling around the United States, and by April 1992 had made it to Alaska, where he decided to explore a remote hiking route called the Stampede Trail, apparently with romantic notions of living simply off the land. He was last seen alive by a local man named Jim Gallien, who gave the hitch-hiker a lift out from the city to the beginning of the titular wild.

Here I quote Wikipedia:

Gallien later said he had been seriously concerned about the safety of McCandless after noticing his light pack, minimal equipment, meager rations, and obvious lack of experience. Gallien said he had deep doubts about [McCandless’s] ability to survive the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan bush.

Gallien tried repeatedly to persuade McCandless to delay the trip, at one point offering to detour to Anchorage and buy him suitable equipment and supplies. However, McCandless ignored Gallien’s persistent warnings and refused his offers of assistance. Gallien dropped McCandless off believing he would head back towards the highway within a few days as hunger set in.

If you think that hiking deep into the subarctic wilderness without a clue what you’re doing is a great way to get killed… well, you’re smarter than McCandless, who promptly got stranded, ran out of supplies and starved to death. His journal documents 113 days of isolation, including his attempts to return to civilisation, which failed because he hadn’t bothered to pack a map. Since ignorance is not bliss, he took shelter in the aforementioned abandoned bus and no doubt suffered horribly as his body disintegrated. By the end he was so weak that in his journal he was only able to mark each day with a slash. When his emaciated body was eventually discovered it weighed a mere 30kg.

So to summarise: a young man travels to one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth, ignores repeated warnings and offers of help from those more knowledgeable than him, makes a dangerous journey without preparation, equipment or experience, and gets exactly what he asked for: a painful, predictable, preventable and pointless death.

Then Sean Penn made a movie about it and now everyone thinks this imbecile was an inspiration.

“Was Christopher McCandless a heroic adventurer or a naïve idealist,” asks one review, “a rebellious 1990s Thoreau or another lost American son, a fearless risk-taker or a tragic figure who wrestled with the precarious balance between man and nature?” And therein lies the problem, for McCandless was none of these things. He was merely an idiot, and the only inspiration we should take from his story is to not be like that.

If Into the Wild portrayed McCandless as the pitiful, hapless doofus that he was - perhaps having him played by Adam Sandler - then all would be fine. But from the many conversations I’ve had about this film, it’s clear that it does the opposite. A generation of moviegoers have become convinced that McCandless was some kind of hero; a daring visionary; a bold, brave adventurer who escaped the shallow confines of our materialistic society and proved once and for all that… well, I’m not sure, because what he really proved is that the materialistic society he thought he was above is in fact the the only thing keeping any of us alive. Mother Nature is not some kind, nurturing matriarch with whom we must live in harmony; she’s a heartless bitch who’ll rip you to shreds the moment you let your guard down, and the story of human progress is the story of a constant battle to beat back the cruel, chaotic forces of the natural world. Civilisation is underrated - a thought which may have crossed McCandless’s mind as he shivered in his sleeping bag.

And by the way, can we spare a thought for the poor folks who had to clean up this mess? McCandless was found weeks after his death by random members of the public who were no doubt disturbed, perhaps traumatised, by the sight of his rotting corpse. Who knows how much taxpayer money was wasted on the subsequent recovery operation and investigation - not to mention on the many rescue operations that have been needed since?

You read that right: for as long as McCandless has been famous, pilgrims have been attempting to outdo him in the stupid stakes, recreating his journey with predictable consequences. At least two people have died trying to reach the “magic bus”, and countless others have come close and needed rescue via airlift. Into the Wild is now back in the news because the Alaskan government have had enough: the bus has been taken away, and those pilgrims can go imitate a less moronic movie character. Like Forrest Gump.

McCandless didn’t just kill himself: he endangered others, and his legacy will continue to make the world a worse place for as long as people take this stupid movie seriously. The only way Into the Wild could be worse in the “glorifying people who shouldn’t be glorifed” department is if it depicted its protagonist wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt.

So I’m not watching it, and neither should you. In the pantheon of movies that it’s acceptable to dislike without seeing, Into the Wild sits somewhere between The Emoji Movie and Triumph of the Will.

Plus its soundtrack was done by Eddie Vedder, and if watching it means I have to sit through two hours of that man’s singing then I’d rather starve to death in the wild.


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