This movie definitely became one of my favorite movies. Maybe it is because I met a couple of the famous people in this movie..... maybe not. I did not get the opportunity to really talk to either the actor or the director, probably because some of the stage hands were pushing me around for taking pictures of Emile while he was being filmed.
***If you have not watched it, stop reading, because I'm diving head first. ***
At first glance, this based-on-book/real-life story just seemed like it was Chris McCandless's attempt to be Hippie Numero Uno. Don't get me wrong, he meets hippies along the way, but that's not the point. I found myself deeply entrenched in this story about Chris, who aptly renamed himself "Alex Supertramp" when he began his journey, because as the story continued, I discovered that his life, this image on a bus in Alaska, was a complete detour of what he missed along the way.
Chris's story begins shortly after he graduates from Emory University (which Penn picked Fox's location because it's Macy dorm looked like one of Emory's). He and his sister/best friend are the "bastard children" of overtly materialistic parents who layer lies upon deceit to keep a straight face to the rest of the world. In Chris's mind, this journey he takes is his way of telling his parents to discover what really matters.
He travelled from Atlanta, to South Dakota, to Los Angeles & other parts of California, to Mexico, the Grand Canyon & Colorado River, the Yukon territories, and finally Fairbanks, Alaska, and many other places along the way. On that path he meets some amazing characters:
A simple wheat farmer in South Dakota
A hippie couple, twice, once on the road and another in "Slab City"
and my favorite......A WWII vet
Chris's journey, to me anyway, seemed to be a path of finding out truth, being inspired by some great writers in history: Tolstoy, Thoreau, and London to name a few. His home life was something he did not want, partially because of his parents lacking the vision to see that they were constantly pushing their children away. To Chris, his trip, ending in Alaska, was how he was going to discover his purpose. Over time, Alaska became his purpose.
Throughout the movie, you start to realize that the people he encounters have a strong sense of love and care towards this young 23 year old. The narration of his sister only strengthens the purpose of the film. I for one found that Chris's Alaskan ambition blinded him to one simple truth: He was looking for love.
About an hour before the end of the film, he meets Ron Franz, a WWII vet who's lived in Salton Sea, CA all his life. Ron didn't have much purpose at first glance. He's lived his life carving images into leather after his wife and son died in a tragic car accident while he was in Okinawa, Japan. After he met Chris, he found purpose. He found out that true happiness came in loving people. He went out of his way to house Chris during his journey, feed him, teach him the art of leather carving. Chris, in his usual manner throughout the film, tends to leave his hosts early and suddenly in his pursuit of Alaska. Ron, in his loving ways, caught Chris early in the morning, gave him miscellaneous supplies, and drove over 100 miles to get out of the desert to drop Chris off to continue his journey. In what I think is the most God-inspired scene in the movie, Ron gives Chris a proposition. He asks Chris if he can adopt him, so that Chris wouldn't have to run anymore. Very politely, Chris said "We'll talk about it when I get back from Alaska." With tears rolling down his face, Ron sits in his car as he watches Chris hitch hike his way to the great unknown.
In one of the last scenes, Chris is dying of starvation in an abandoned bus outside of Fairbanks in the true wild. During his 112 days in the wild, he kept a journal. He thought he found true happiness being alone in nature, in all its beautiful yet dangerously unpredictable scenery. However, being trapped and dying, he realized that by taking the name of "Alexander Supertramp," he realized how alone he was out there. He wrote something along the lines of "real happiness is shared." With images of the people who loved him flashing before his eyes, he died knowing that his ambition of Alaska sealed his fate to die alone.
I find that many times in our lives we are Chris in that car with Ron, only Ron is God (not really, but follow me). Ron gave Chris everything he could. Everything. He even offered family, love, and a cherished life. No strings attached. Yet we have our own dreams, our "Alaska," and we say "We'll talk about it later." God's gift of love is real, and we tend to push it away. It almost seems too good to be true. We go hitch hiking, leaving God broken hearted after we've thrown his gift back in his face.
My interpretation of Sean Penn's film might not be what Penn intended, but then again, God works in really funny ways.