Into the Wild is a novel based on the true tales of Christopher McCandless, a wealthy young man, and his journey from the east coast to the Alaskan wilderness. Many ideas have been thrown around about Chris and what made him leave everything behind. Whether that be supporting him or heavily criticizing him. Two men Jon Krakauer and Sean Penn set out to tell the real story, one through a novel and the other through a film. Both portrayed similar ideas and views about Chris and his journey; however, there were some differences that had an impact on how the story is represented to its audience.
Krakauer’s book is something between a journalistic investigation and a personal essay on a topic that interests him, and the style varies a lot, with an extremely accessible and easy to read form one minute, and sophisticated vocabulary stretches like ‘contumacious’ and ‘analysand’ (Krakauer 10 and 126) the next. It’s Chris’s life story, as near as he can get it, based on a combination of interviews, McCandless letters and diaries, guesswork, deduction, investigation, and sometimes a combination of all of the above. He fills in the blanks with personal notes, revelations, memories, and environmental descriptions. The book also has much more information included in it that helps further the reader’s understanding of Chris’s situation. One such thing is just how unprepared he is when it says “Alex admitted that the only food in his pack was a ten-pound bag of rice” and “a .22 caliber rifle” (5). All of this made what you were reading feel so much more real and in-depth. In the movie, the story is based solely on the journey Chris took and the many people he met along the way. The largest difference is that in the novel it is not known what exactly was the cause of his death. At least not that we were made aware of. Compared to the movie where we were made aware of the poisonous plants he had ingested. This is supported by an article in the new yorker where it’s said: “I speculated that he had inadvertently poisoned himself” (Krakauer). A significant similarity in both forms of media is that important details like the setting and people he met along his journey stayed very accurate.
The movie by Sean Penn takes more leniency in that it gives Chris McCandless relationships with people that probably did not develop in the manner as presented in the film. The movie was arranged into chapters about his life like “adolescence” and “youth” rather than after the places he visited. Also with the movie being narrated by his sister gave it a much different feel than the novel. A similarity between the movie and the novel is that it’s constantly jumping back and forth between different times. This makes it confusing to keep track of where exactly you are in the story and could make it difficult for some viewers of the film. “You could tell right away that Alex was intelligent” (18). Another big change is that by the end of the movie Chris is depicted as going crazy. He is shown talking to himself a lot, and it gives you the feeling that he had lost his mind by the end of his life. This was shown with his desperate actions towards the end and this quote “I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking”(18). Refusing to bring the right supplies such as “He had no ax, no bug dope, no snowshoes, no compass” (5). These added in with that he refused to use anything but his head while figuring out what was edible were the few significant downfalls in his life.
Both the novel and the movie were portrayed in exciting and significant ways. They both did an immaculate job in telling the story of Chris McCandless. Both media’s had their positives and negatives to them; however, both were done in a well-written and produced way. One thing to note is that Krakauer’s book is an examination of McCandless’ life and death. Penn’s movie is an enthusiastic celebration of it. I find it very respectful that both versions of the story kept the story and the reasons behind the journey accurate. It helps the viewers have a more profound connection with the story knowing that it is entirely based on a true story.
- Krakauer, Jon. Into The Wild. New York : Anchor Books, 1997. Print.;
- Krakauer, Jon. “How Chris McCandless Died.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 7 Apr. 2018, www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/how-chris-mccandless-died.