Here’s the thing about Into the Wild

Do you ever see something, hear something, read something that just sticks in your mind? Not like a catchy commercial jingle or inane pop song, but an image or idea that just won’t leave you?


This week I watched the movie Into the Wild starring Emile Hirsch. The movie was full of beautiful images, breathtaking landscapes, and gorgeous wildlife. Not to mention the handsome star himself. The main character, Chris McCandless (also known as Alexander Supertramp) has many revelations and eureka moments. He learns a lot of life lessons and writes them down in words that go straight to your heart.

Chris/Alex has many adventures. He harvests wheat, he hitchhikes, he climbs, he swims, he runs, he jumps, he laughs, he loves. He kayaks down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon and all the way down to Mexico for goodness sake.

And while all of that is powerful and heartfelt and, more importantly, true, none of these things in particular stuck in my mind. There wasn’t one person that Chris/Alex met or one place that he lived that made any more of an impression than another. It’s all a blur of trees and desert and river.

ImageWhat is stuck in my mind happens in the last five minutes of the movie. Chris has had his last revelation, his last eureka moment. He writes, “Happiness only real when shared.” But that’s not what’s stuck in my mind, either. Shortly before writing these words, Chris realizes that as much as he loves the land and as great as his adventure has been, it would’ve been nothing without the people he met and the relationships he formed. Sadly he realizes this about the same time he realizes he’s stuck and he’s hungry. He can’t cross back over the river he crossed to find the Magic Bus (where he’d been living for a couple of months) and he can’t seem to find any animals to hunt.

He’s stuck and he’s hungry and he’s alone.

So he washes himself, puts back on his old and tattered clothes, lays down on his bed in the Magic Bus, zips up his coat for the last time (hood up), and he dies.

And that’s the image I cannot get out of my mind. Chris lying there, having learned what was perhaps the most important lesson of his life – the importance of relationship – unable to do anything with it. Now that he understands the importance of people, there are none to be found and there is no way to reach any of them. And all I can think about is him (well, Emile Hirsch) lying there, hood up, zipping up his coat for the last time.

It’s a true story, you know, and I think that’s why it’s haunting me.

There’s a scene in Now and Then where Roberta, played by Christina Ricci, kind of cracks. She’s learned the truth about her mother’s death – that is was painful and messy – and the truth about Crazy Pete – that his family died long ago and that he isn’t crazy, just lonely. They’re in someone’s attic, I don’t remember whose, and she loses it. She throws things and shatters a mirror and she shouts, “Why did they have to die? Why did she have to die?”

Behind my eyes, for days now, I see Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless having learned the importance of relationship and unable to do anything about it, zipping up his coat for the last time, fur hood framing his gaunt face and all I can think is, “Why did he have to die?”

I suppose these thoughts are relevant on this day – the day between Death and Glory – and I suppose that on this day many years ago there were many friends of Jesus asking the same question. “Why did he have to die?” The thing is, it became clear. It became glaringly clear why Jesus had to die. His death conquered death and brought life, life, life. I’m so thankful for His death. For the torn veil. For the crushed head. For the empty grave.

I think I used to believe that knowing Jesus meant knowing all the answers, but it doesn’t, not when you’re living in between Death and Glory. I can tell you why Jesus had to die, yes, but we’re two thousand years removed from that painful day, from that gaunt face, from that one God-man’s submission to death. But here in the now, days out, months out, years out from the death of a loved one (or a stranger I only know from a movie I once saw), I have zero answers to the question, “Why did he have to die?”

And all I can see is that too-skinny, lonely face, finally knowing what he needed most and utterly unable to get it.

// For an interesting interview with Emile Hirsch, click here.

4 thoughts on “Here’s the thing about Into the Wild

  1. “I think I used to believe that knowing Jesus meant knowing all the answers, but it doesn’t, not when you’re living in between Death and Glory.” That sentence. wow. A whole blog of its own!

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