John Krakauer offers a beautifully written and researched journey into the last few years of Chris McCandless- a boy born to a well off family who leaves it all behind to travel the country and live off the land, until he meets his end one summer while camping out in Alaska. Originating from a magazine article, it’s amazing to read the details and fascinating recounts that Krakauer has tracked down about McCandless’ last few years alive. McCandless proves to be a fascinating individual who touched the lives of many while traveling around the country. Whether it’s Wayne in South Dakota or Ron at the Salton Sea, everyone who knew McCandless lends a poignant story of how he entered and exited their lives and in many cases, changed who they are today. The stories are so detailed (you can see Krakauer’s blood, sweat, and tears in his work), however, a good portion of the book is stories of other individuals similar to McCandless. Often after revealing a few details about McCandless, Krakauer will tangent onto another wanderer who walked into the Mojave desert and never returned, or those who decided to mountain climb in Alaska and were never heard from again. Krakaeur even spends two chapters recounting his own journey into Alaska and his attempts to climb the dangerous slopes of the “Devil’s Thumb.” Krakauer uses these stories as frames of reference and to sew together any gaps in McCandless’ travels in which we only have speculation, however I often found myself bored and wishing I could hear more about McCandless during these points. The novel may have been better off being shorter, without these “filler” stories, or perhaps published with them, but as an aside from McCandless’ journey. Having them inserted throughout McCandless’ story, I felt, did the opposite of what was intended- instead of making the story seamless it felt slightly disjointed. sub domains . McCandless’ story is interesting enough on its own that we don’t need to hear about how many others had done it before him.
Perhaps the faults I saw in the book are why I loved the movie so much. Sean Penn picks out McCandless’ story and then lays it into a visual timeline (though not completely chronological) that we are simply present for. The film brings to life the wonderful characters that are sprinkled throughout McCandless’ travels and takes its audience on the journey with him. I felt as though I was sitting in the theater for hours upon hours, but that is how Penn intends you to feel- as though you were present for every step of McCandless’ journey. The carefree wanderer couldn’t have been portrayed better than Emile Hirsch’s harrowing turn as Chris McCandless, for which he deserves every ounce of the Oscar nomination (and possibly award depending on who he’s up against) that he will receive. Penn adapts the novel so well that I actually felt a terrifying anxiety as McCandless takes his last breath, as though it would be mine as well. This film does what so many fail to do: it gives it’s audience an experience; something more than just two and a half hours of sitting and staring at a big screen. The superb writing, direction, and acting, all set to Eddie Vedder’s amazing musical accompaniment, make this movie an absolute must see this Oscar season.
Not much. With the exception of the additional stories regarding other wanderers that pop up throughout the book, the film is such a direct adaptation that Penn managed to squeeze in all the acquaintances that McCandless encountered on the road. Pretty much the only thing cut for time is Chris’ second trip to South Dakota, where he works for Wayne once more before he takes off for Alaska.
The character of Tracy is more prominent. In the book it’s simply mentioned that a girl had a crush on Chris, but in the movie Chris and Tracy become friends and she’s used as a device to show that Chris didn’t give in to temptations and chose to be celibate. The two Swedes that Chris meets while kayaking the Colorado weren’t in the book, but served as great comic relief and broke up Chris’ reflective journey down the river.
A direct adaptation of a tragic story; all of McCandless’ journeys are yanked from the page to the screen. Though it will likely take you just about as long to read the book as it will to see the movie (the book is just shy of 200 pages, the movie is just over 140 minutes), the movie will guarantee you a better experience than the reading will- and that is saying something.