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Empire List #473: Into the Wild

There is a small cinema in Quebec City located in a mall that is shaped just like a pyramid. That cinema mostly plays foreign movies or art films. The screens are tiny and whenever I go there most of the audience is above the age of 40 so I guess that qualifies it as an art house. It is called “Le Clap” although I am not sure if I would translate that literally into English. It would be kind of weird to say: “I went to the Clap to see “Into the Wild,”” which is what I did in the fall of 2007.

If I recall well it was my week off from university in Sherbrooke so I was in Quebec City at my mom’s place. As usual, all of the big movies were dubbed in French, which I hate, so we opted for a well-reviewed movie with Oscar potential directed by Sean Penn. The movie actually had English subtitles, which didn’t bother me: I used to learn Spanish by watching American movies with Spanish subtitles. Dubbing I hate, subtitles I don’t mind because they allow you to both enjoy the original dialogue and understand the story.

The story, based on real events, is intriguing especially for today’s culture even though it is set in 1990. Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsh) becomes disillusioned with life and the path that he feels his parents have imposed on him. As a result he decides to destroy his identity, change his name to Alexander Supertramp, give away whatever money he has and set off into the wild, specifically Alaska. Some college graduates like to backpack around Europe, Christopher chose to abandon society and reconnect with nature.

What a wild idea, especially today. There are people who have more gadgets than James Bond and are more connected than someone hooked into the matrix. Between Facebook, Twitter, Ipads, and Google, they barely have time to go for a walk in the woods. The idea of dropping everything and heading for the wilderness must seem as foreign to them as the planet Mars.

Yet by watching this movie you are reminded of what a beautiful planet we inhabit. Christopher’s journey takes him to the Grand Canyon, where nature has done works of art without the help of a chisel or a hammer. When he does reach Alaska, the absence of civilization and the beauty of nature are stunning.

As with all road movies Christopher meets an array of characters on his way to his destination. Appropriately some of these people also live outside of the bustling society that we know. These include a hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian H. Dierker), a harvester (Vince Vaughn), and a retiree (Hal Holbrook). The most significant of these is the retiree Ron Franz with whom Christopher bonds whiles staying with him for months. Ron even suggests he could adopt Christopher, but it seems more like a desperate attempt to keep him from going further north. He admires the young man’s lust for life, but he is afraid to see him walk away into the sunset all alone. He should be.

Like Christopher I have been to the Grand Canyon and I have seen some truly spectacular landscapes in this world. I can understand his desire to just get up one day and leave it all behind, but the problem with bailing out on civilization is that civilization will not bail you out if nature gives you trouble.

My dad is a geologist who used to work in Newfoundland, which is like Alaska, only with more unpredictable weather. It once snowed in July to give you an idea. Whenever my dad would go into the wild as part of a company project, he would not camp out with just a rifle, some supplies, and a nature books. He had pickup trucks, generators, satellite phones, and if need be, a helicopter. This is why man manages to survive in just about every environment on the planet: technology. It isolates us but keeps us connected at the same time. Nature is beautiful, but if you go into the wild, don’t go alone and don’t forget to tell people where you are going. Enjoy the journey, but make sure you can come back.

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