Into the Wild

I am an infrequent viewer of Hanna Montana. Mostly I scan to make sure that it isn’t too age inappropriate for the wee daughter while keeping in mind that children are instinctively attracted to stories and shows about kids who are older than themselves. It’s a phenomena that makes sense when one remembers that we learn primarily by example, but it puzzles and irritates parents who would rather their children stayed children with no aspirations of growing up.

On the show, Hanna lives with her dad and her older brother. I have never heard mention of her mother or why she is no longer with the family. Being a Disney product, I should have at least suspected that Robby Ray (Hanna’s dad – don’t you just love sitcom versions of the two name Southern tradition?) was widowed. The movie doesn’t dwell on it, treats the death as just a life event that everyone still quietly acknowledges at pivotal moments but not in the melodramatic way of drama shows, which really sets my teeth to grinding with the whiny spiritually mauled but enduring in the face of personal tragedy way that defines survivors in popular culture anymore.        

BabyD didn’t miss the references though she only commented once and hasn’t mentioned it again. I would imagine that having a dead parent in common with Miley/Hanna will only further cement her adoration.

So having had my media death reference for the day, I tried to convince Rob that we should watch the war movie we’d gotten from the bookmobile this week as opposed to  the Sean Penn film, Into the Wild, in which the main character starves to death after arrogantly trotting out into the Alaskan wilderness, thinking that his experience as a modern day hobo in the lower 48 had equipped him with the “right stuff” for the wild. Even if I didn’t know going in that the young man had died, I could have guessed the outcome anyway. I wouldn’t last long either in that situation and I have been following the Way of the Rob for over two years now. This guy had Jack London and Thoreau as his guides (and really, nearly every one of London’s more famous main characters are crushed by the superiority of the wild and Thoreau was a huge poser who lived off the generosity of his friend Emerson – Walden Pond was in his back yard after all).

But Rob wanted Into the Wild.

I did not like the main character, Chris McCandless, from the start. It took me a while to figure out why, but I eventually pinpointed the two main reasons.

One, he reminded me of my brother, CB. His wild ideas and proselytizing and the way he used people by exploiting the holes in their lives that his presence managed to fill for long enough to make them more aware of this gaps than they had been was so like my brother. Charm. Self-delusion. The ability to pan-handle by allowing people to feel as though they have been touched by an angel in the process. Classic.  

The second reason was that he was nearly the definition of Gen X angst. At some point I realized that McCandless was just five years younger than I am, the same age as my baby sister and the same peer group of Kurt Cobain, who still retains this impossible aura of generational representation that the disenfranchised find so appealing. For the record, I have no patience with the “my parents were such cock-suckers that I must be a complete dickwad myself in order to set my universe right” theory of life. Gen X is nearly as whiny about that as the Boomers can be, and I have never find being sandwiched between such narcissistic horse-shit easy to tolerate.

Long story summed up, McCandless was an upper-middleclass college grad who’d never faced much personal adversity aside from the fact that his parents had a very bad marriage and weren’t grown up enough to keep their kids out of it. Because of this, Chris actively dropped out of the mainstream upon his graduation, partly as a statement about what he thought was an empty, consumer-driven, greedy society but more as a way to punish his parents for not having been perfect.

The film tries to address the fundamental flaws in Chris but I thought it erred too often on glorifying his idiotic behavior and making him appear more enlightened than the rest of society.

Chris McCandless was selfish, cruel and ultimately he learned a very hard lesson – that happiness is about others more than it is about yourself.

I was ready to quit the movie with about twenty minutes left to go, but Rob wanted to push on. We both knew what was coming, but I decided to hang in – hoping that the director would not dramatize Chris’s death. No such luck. The last moments are played out to the eerie  sound of a heartbeat like sound that began to beat faster and faster until finally the young man exhales sharply and is gone. My first husband’s last moments were nearly identical. I felt his heartbeat racing like footfall under my hand and the last breath was so forceful, it seemed as though he was pushing his soul through a crack in a sidewalk.

Fortunately, the film did not get the facial expression right. Movies never do or maybe it is not possible to fake the vacancy on the face of the living even with make up and special effects.

Afterwards it was hard to fall asleep. I worried a bit about my own brother who is making self-extinction noises again. And I pondered my own changed self.