Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rite of Passage

A couple nights ago, I was watching a recent episode of the Charlie Rose Show (I highly recommend this talk show) in which Sean Penn and Eddie Vedder were interviewed regarding Penn's latest movie as writer/director & Vedder as score composer/performer, Into the Wild.* The film is based off of John Krakauer's book of the same name and details the true story of Christopher McCandless's adventures & ultimate tragedy in the early 1990s. I thought the interview with Penn and Vedder was mostly interesting, but the subject matter surrounding McCandless's journey was what really captured me.

Here's a synopsis of the closing years of McCandless's life from Publisher's Weekly:
After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he went to live in the wilderness. Four months later, he turned up dead. His diary, letters and two notes found at a remote campsite tell of his desperate effort to survive, apparently stranded by an injury and slowly starving. They also reflect the posturing of a confused young man, raised in affluent Annandale, Va., who self-consciously adopted a Tolstoyan renunciation of wealth and return to nature.

In the Charlie Rose interview, Sean Penn explored the notion of a "rite of passage" that McCandless seemed to impose on himself:
"I think in a societal, organic sense [a rite of passage] almost doesn’t exist anymore in terms of something that presents itself to you (whether you choose it or not) it’s something for your survival and it’s mandatory. That exists very seldomly, particularly in our culture here in the U.S. Increasingly, I think that men and women are recognizing that this is not a human luxury, but a human need: to test one’s self, to find one’s self, and most importantly to return to one’s self..."

These ideas got me musing on the effects that modern American society and technological advances have had on our development as individuals (and consequently, as a nation). When I look into the direction taken by Christopher McCandless, it's sobering to see how certain decisions led to his death, yet I can't help but sense that he was on to something.

Is it possible that our "advanced" culture is gradually drawing us away from the necessity of interacting and grappling with the physical world?... away from the raw process of maturity? I think many of us, at some point, endure a disruptive event that forces us to either shrink back or grow up; but in 21st century America it seems that these events tend to be trite, virtual, or contrived for those with excess. Being human seems to require an almost primal simplicity at times, and I think our material crap can really get in the way. (It does for me anyway)

Well, enough rambling about that. I'm really looking forward to seeing this film at some point (and hopefully read the book ahead of time). In my mind, all of these thoughts keep tying into the concept of degrees of separation that I still want to write about sometime soon. Until then... adieu.

* You can view this particular interview here.
Photo Credit -

1 comment:

Corey said...

Thanks for the link to this post. i've yet to read the book on McCandless's life but the movie was fantastic.

I will definitely check out the Charlie Rose interview (i love Charlie Rose!).

and thanks for the comments you leave on my blog from time to time. they help me to know i'm not alone in all of my musings. for the internet being a place so full of information it sure can be a lonely place.

peace, corey