Sunday, June 13, 2010

Featured Poet of the Week: Robin Jeffers and the Film "Into The Wild"

poet Robinson Jeffer's Hawk Tower in Carmel, California
Photo by Celeste Davison Wikipedia

This afternoon I happened to channel surf. However, I really need a tv guide; channel 54 does not show me what is coming up; I missed Saturday's Bucket List on Citytv Toronto.

The film "Into The Wild" is a true story by Jon Krakauer and film; Directed, Produced and Screenwritten by Sean Penn) about a young man Christopher McCandless (played brilliantly by Emile Hirsch).

Actually filmed during a real graduation at Emory College, Georgia USA, McCrandless graduates from this prestigious university in 1990. And like any true postgrad book-stuffed brainiac decides to go to Alaska for a few months for an aesthetic commune with nature. It is the early 1990's after all, Northern Exposure must have influenced this poor grungy guy who looks abit like Kurt Cobain.

As sad as this story is in the beginning; it gets a lot sadder. Much sadder. This young man decides after graduation to tramp his way across the States from Virginia to California. He ends up loosing his Datsun, throwing away $24,000.00 in cash and burns all his credit cards and other credentials.

McCandless then decides to take on a new identity, to disown society, removing himself from the equation of modern and tainted life. As the new alter-ego Alexander Supertramp McCandless is reborn into his new identity and new found freedom. As he continues removing his past identity, travelling down the Colorado River illegally. McCandless ends up in a trailer park in California, etc.

Loving the life of the hermit McCandless finally decides it is time to live his dream and head for the Alaskan wilderness. Along the way he meets all kinds of left-over hippy characters in trailer parks and nudist parks and even a very nice old man played exquisitely by Hal Holbrook.

After many happy meetings with total strangers who most generously provide him with the basic essentials of life, McCandless' life goes terribly wrong. McCandless seems to not appreciate "the kindess of strangers" almost expecting everyone should help him attain his "dream Alaska". Is he baked? I'd have to believe he was doing the herbal.

Due to his parents unhappy marriage, McCandless is riddled with unfinished business and plagued with latent young male angst. Relationship after relationship he sloughs as unimportant and seemingly irrelevant; he abandons everyone he meets along the way for a shot of redemption and his Alaskan dream adventure. His parents and siblings are besides themselves with grief wondering why they have not heard a word from their son.

A series of very unfortuate and unhappy events preeminent; the script; gloomy and foreboding atmosphere. It does tend to make one sense that this story is not going to end well. (Spoiler Warning: do not read after this line if you don't want the ending spoiled for you; you were warned; go see the film!).

McCandless finally succumbs to hunger, weighing only 67 lbs. McCandless did not die by wild potato poisoning. The Sean Penn screenplay depicted so dramatic a climax, and in my opinion, quite well, just not factually accurate in all accounts. The Penn rendition is memorable, no doubt. It would have been better if the story did remain truthful, as it is the account of real person, and in my opinion, it should stay true to the facts and the author Krakauer.

It did seem as though "Mr. Madonna" had tried to gussy up the script somewhat for dramatic inpact. Does not every Hollywood producer create this obsessive need to shock lately? Most box office films are always action packed with no plot. Nothing new here. Got to keep the audience awake I suppose, present some noise at least! Got to employ that expensive Dolby sound system; but EVERY film? I am beginning to like the Independent Film Channel. Although not all the time and not every film that is independent is like the 15 million they spent on this film. Returns and accolades did make up for any inadequacy found in the film's lack of substantial plot. What else is new? Hollywood's bottom line being the dollar not quite living up to artistic ideals.

The film did receive every award an accolade imaginable. Penn's pull in Hollywood or his enthusiasm must have been the impetus, yet I think there could be more character development in the young man McCandless. For the most part the characters are well-defined, realistic and interesting, although abit stereotypical in the hippy motif. Anyone who has aspirations of living in a trailer park will most certainly think twice. The end scene was brilliant; the way McCandless expired was filmed beautifully, "the most beautifully expressed death I've witnessed on film in a very long time". To say the least, this film had a visceral impact on my Emotive Vortex rating score. Enough scenery and action thrills to appeal to the general audience.

As McCrandless throws his life away to the wilds, playing the part of the hermit, he is not developing on a personal level, no great masterpiece phrases spew from his mouth. No wisdom found until the end of the film. And the spirit of McCandless wreckless independence, if not his utter naivite, does prevail and much too pervasively, throughtout the film.

There are some excellent literary tidbits thrown in with the cheesies thank goodness! I do sense this film is an adequate portrait of the man McCandless just not completely excellent. The haunting end picture is so errie however, I can see McCandless smiling not knowing in a few weeks he'd be deadier than Sam McGee. There are many great moment in this film, the cinematography being one important aspect. It is Alaska and the scenery is mind-blowing, the Colorado river breath-taking as usual. Scenery is like location in real estate; Scenery, scenery, scenery. A vital component of filmmaking arts and sciences.

As an ardent imbiber of everything naturalist, McCandless is untouchable. Not only is the nude variety show in the California desert idicative of McCandless search for the alternate lifestyle, he does not want to fit into world the of disenfrancised aka poor huddled masses on the periphery; those who live on the fringe of society by choice or by design.

Although nudity does show up in the film; there are actual nudist camps in Southern California, it just was a chance meeting with these marginalized and reformatted communes; a leftover phenomena from the 1960's.

True to form, McCandless is seeking a way in the wilderness not knowing that it is staring him in the mirror each morning. His foray into the wilds makes him introverted and if not psychotic, extremely eccentric in his desire to live alone in his hermitage bus.

McCandless, when trying to socialize, finds he is only interested in his own seeking pursuit. He continues to dismiss relationships with his girlfriend, and parents. Finally McCandless need to find out whether or not he has the right stuff to be a person comfortable in his own skin fails miserably. McCandless' desires to evoke nature in himself; his inner quest more important than his outward quest. The two worlds, the ideal and the real take on a heavier dimension far outweighing his original findings.

When McCandless heads to Alaska he has a dire need to become the experiencer and not just the generic "experienced" of the common man. McCandless is seek a transcedental experience; and this he receives, although not exactly the way he expected, if he had more forethought, he may have been more successful. Who is to know if this was his intent; to go to the woods to die. Unlikely although as a philosopher one can only push the enveloope so far.

McCandless simply enjoys the Odyssey; the fine adventure of found solitude but with the many tragic events happening one has to wonder whether the means were worth the end result. Simply put, McCandless does not know how to live in the wilds. He is not studied or trained enough to be considered a professional backwoodsman. Not a smart idea when headed into the Alaskan wilderness and the many unexpected experiences which are indigenous to that particular geographical area.

The phenomena of young men going to Alaska without adequate food, water or clothing, etc is now termed "McCandless Phenomena". It was sad to find out that with prior knowledge of a swing bridge located only a few miles north, McCandless would have been able to survive his tragic ordeals. Undoubtly, McCandless would not have wanted this disrespectful moniker.

Researching the legend of the real and imagined McCandless was an enjoyable venture of the literary kind. It was a pleasure trying to understanding the mind of the man who had such wanderlust and finding much poetry in nature and the nature of man along the way. I also got to happen upon some fine poets, such as Robinson Jeffers, and artist/photographer Ansel Adams, the American romantic poets, and philosopher Krishnamurti. What a find! I'll be here awhile reading all about these special and pivotal times in history.

McCandless was totally smitten with poet Robinson Jeffers and I can see why. Here is a poem, by Jeffers, another definitively rebellious poet/maverick;

"He tore the final page from Louis L'Amour's memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, which contains an excerpt from Robinson Jeffers poem titled;

"Wise Men in Their Bad Hours":

Death's a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made
Something more equal to centuries
Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.
The mountains are dead stone, the people
Admire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,
The mountains are not softened or troubled
And a few dead men's thoughts have the same temper.
R. Jeffers"

On the other side of the page, McCandless added, "I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!""*acknowledgement to Wikipedia These were his last words.

Here is some more interesting information:

"Jeffers was compared to Greek tragedians, Boni & Liveright reissued an expanded edition as Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems (1925). In these works, Jeffers began to articulate themes that contributed to what he later identified as Inhumanism. Mankind was too self-centered, he complained, and too indifferent to the "astonishing beauty of things". Jeffers's longest and most ambitious narrative, The Women at Point Sur (1927), startled many of his readers, heavily loaded as it was with Nietzschean philosophy. The balance of the 1920s and the early 1930s were especially productive for Jeffers, and his reputation was secure. In 1934, he made the acquaintance of the philosopher J Krishnamurti and was struck by the force of Krishnamurti's person"(*Acknowlegement to Wikipedia)

Maybe I will do a special on "be alone and bored" Krishnamurti next week. We'll see.

There were some other juicy finds; Jeffers knew Ansel Adams, I think, or Ansel Adams was helping preserve Hawk Tower. This tower so aesthetic a reminder of the romantic nature of Jeffers the poet and artist.

Jeffers built this gorgeous stone house for his wife in the early 1900's in Southern California. His wife loved castles. How poetic, reminding me of other sculptures like Pigmalion who would create such ardent trifles for their better halves.

The fact McCandless was emulating American writers, poet Robinson Jeffers and naturalist Henry David Thoreau's return to the basics and the best possible untouched wilderness; the idyllic world of the American romantics. Although this world would be too idyllic in concept for most; it turned out to be very dangerous in practice for McCandless.

If I learned anything practical to take away from the film today, of the poetry and subsequent research on the man McCandless it is this; if you go to Alaska, at least pack a compass. We do not want any more Alaskan-bound hermits effected by the McCandless Phenomena.

This tragedy has happened, undoubtedly it will happen again. However, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. I wonder who said that? Maybe I will google this as well! Oh yes, please; before heading into the Alaskan wilderness, buy a book or two on Alaskan wilderness survival. Always provided by most national park offices for a nominal fee.

It is definitely worth the cost of the publication on Alaskan Survival. A shame that only a little spent to save such a fine and artistic life such as McCandless. If only McCandless had lived, he would have given many insights into his own utopina world.

How many lessons did we miss? If only McCandless had survived his Alaskan experience of a lifetime, we might have more Thoreau-inspired poetry and dessertations. Certainly something was driving this man to the abject wilderness. We probably will never know these exact reasons and inspired this book and film, unfortunately. It was an eye-opener and memorable a film nonetheless.


1 comment:

  1. What a great musing. Having lived in bush (not Alaska), watched film (awhile back) in growing terror and apprehension of 'city folk' who determine ability to survive in such harsh circumstances. Agree the film character does not grow - but then so young an age. Did not know ending entirely accurate. Thanks for that and weaving so much reading into a fine read..