Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Was Chris McCandless Crazy? Literally?
This story was published in the Anchorage Daily News recently and it was sent to me by Azzfan. The gist of the story is that the writer, Craig Medred, believes that Into The Wild, both the book and the movie, fail to tell Chris McCandless' story because they ignore the fact that he may have been a schizophrenic.
Medred contends that we've been fed "a misrepresentation, a sham, a fraud" of a story that makes McCandless out to be a a mythic figure who was setting out to find the "meaning of life". Someone who wanted to commune with nature, and lead a simpler existence, something we all yearn for at times.
He goes on to point out that McCandless took on a different persona, in taking the name Alexander Supertramp, and references notes that were left behind in McCandless' journals as evidence that he was suffering from schizophrenia. In his writings, Chris refers to himself in the third person regularly, sometimes writes vague, yet idealistic, references about his intentions, and talks about getting lost in the wild. Medred contends that McCandless wasn't searching for anything. He was instead running from something. From these observations, he concludes that McCandless suffered from mental illness and that Jon Krakauer deliberately set out to create a folk hero.
My first thought when reading this was that of course McCandless wasn't necessarily searching for anything in particular. At least early on, he was running from something. He was running from his parents, and the upbringing he had known. He was running from the expectations they had for him, and the lifestyle that he saw them stuck in. He wanted no part of that, and I thought that was adequately conveyed in the book and the film. Later though, I would say he did begin to search for things rather than just run away. He was searching for his own identity, away from his family, and he was searching for some direction to where he wanted to go with his life. Things that many young men and women, graduating from college and beginning their adult life, can relate to.
What McCandless schizophrenic as this author claims? That's hard to say. As clearly he did some strange things that not all of us can relate to. But that doesn't make him mentally ill necessarily. There didn't seem to be any indications that he was suffering from schizophrenia by other reports. Besides, wouldn't it make for an even glossier story to have a "Crazy Man" wander off alone in the Alaskan wilderness?
From my perspective, we're just speculating at this point. Krakauer told a story when he wrote Into The Wild. The fact that some people have chosen to make McCandless a mythic folk hero is a curious side product of that. I personally don't think that that was what Krakauer had in mind. Of course, we all see what we want to see at times. To some, he might have been a folk hero to others he really was just plain crazy. It's all a matter of perspective.
Posted by Kraig Becker at 1:57 PM