Into the Wild
I keep thinking I saw this movie before, except that then it starred Shirley Temple. A lovely young person appears and touches the lives of people from all walks of life, bringing them a little bit of sunshine, and guilelessly showing the way to a better life. But in the other movie there wasn't a close-up of maggots crawling through a moose carcass. Not that I remember, anyway.
Into the Wild is a pretty infuriating movie, because it insists on treating the central character as an escapee from Godspell. In Jon Krakauer's slim, fascinating, and disturbing book by the same title, Christopher McCandless is an ambivalent and somewhat pitiable figure. The son of a high-achieving couple, he did well at Emory University, but dwelt on courses concerning apartheid and the African food crisis. Chris became increasingly agitated by the gap between rich and poor, and revolted at his parents' hard-earned success, as well as their hopes for his life. In a letter to his sister Carine, Chris told how their offer of a new car as a graduation present outraged him. (Chris had significant problems with his father, as Krakauer had with his own father, all of this contributing to the power of the book.)
The verb "to drop out" isn't heard much these days, but that's what Chris decided to do. He would disappear after graduation and travel around the country, living on as little as possible, a resistor to the conformity machine. He abandoned his car, burned his cash, and dined on nuts and berries. The impact on the African food crisis has not yet been reported.
Chris also determined to make his escape in a way that would unmistakably shut his parents out. He arranged that the letters they sent him all summer (in lieu of calling; he had no phone) would be held until August 1, then returned-to-sender in bulk. At that point the trail would be cold: Chris had taken off two months previously. His parents would never hear from him again.
When Chris' body was found in a bus near Alaska's Denali National Park, people began to come forward who recalled meeting him on his travels. A middle-aged hippie couple named Jan and Bob (in the movie, Bob's name is changed to Rainey) picked him up hitchhiking, and Jan tried to talk him into contacting his parents. In the book, Jan has fond memories of Chris (who by this time was using the name "Alexander Supertramp"). But in the movie, Jan is pulling away from Rainey and silently brooding over something; we see her walking away down a stretch of beach. Chris tells Rainey that he is afraid of water, but has to start getting used to it sometime. He runs down the beach and playfully urges Jan into the waves, where the two of them leap and play. That evening we glimpse Rainey and Jan having a heart-to-heart in their tent. It worked!
Ron Franz, an octogenarian who also gave Chris a ride, gets the same treatment. In the book, Chris lectures Ron that he too should sell all his belongings and live on the road—youthful ardor both touching and amusing. But in the movie, when Ron asks Chris, "What are you running from?" Chris shoots back, "I could ask you the same," and brings Ron to a breakthrough regarding his own retreat from life.