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Into The Wild Ending, Explained

December 30, 2020
6 min read

What is the purpose of life, and what makes a person truly happy? These are some rather philosophical questions that ‘Into the Wild’ seeks to answer. The adventure drama is based on the real-life story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, an American man in his twenties who lived a nomadic lifestyle after graduating from college, only to succumb to the wilderness. The film is an emotional and compelling testament to the power of human relationships, and if you’ve seen it, then you must be left with a couple of unanswered questions. So why don’t we dissect the climax together?

Into the Wild Plot Synopsis 

The protagonist is Christopher McCandless, a graduate of Emory University. He seeks to live a simple life, surrounded by nature. He believes that true happiness stems from new experiences, and consequently, after completing his studies, he gives up all material belongings to become a vagabond. He also takes on the name Alexander Supertramp. The film takes a look at how he travels across the country and finally sets up camp in Alaska, only to face the harsh forces of nature.

Into The Wild Ending: Did Chris Make the Right Choice?

Chris struggles with starvation for a couple of days and becomes immensely weak. The same man who was once content with the solitude and beauty of the wild has now run of supplies and can’t find any food. Nonetheless, he keeps on journaling. He now realizes that happiness is only real when it is shared with others. At the brink of death, he leaves a farewell note that reads that he has had a happy life. In his final moments, he thinks about his family.

Family, and its many facets, are a recurring motif in the film. In fact, it is repeatedly established that Chris is on this vagrant journey only because he is running away from the many horrors he had seen as a kid in his own household. His parents would constantly fight. Chris realizes at a young age that his family and home are not ideal, and he spends his entire adult life running away from this.  So it is melancholically ironic, but not surprising, that he thinks of his parents in his final moments. For whatever its worth, Chris knows that his basic needs of food and shelter would have been met. It is also pertinent to note that the protagonist tends to romanticize difficult situations, especially because he has found solace in literature since childhood. This prompts the question: what would Chris’ life look like if had decided to reconnect with his family?

Given that Chris’ family hasn’t seen him in almost 2 years, it would definitely be emotional. For the first few days, they would have pampered him and made him feel secure again. We also know that his parents’ personalities have changed in the wake of his disappearance. So it seems as though they would have done everything in their power to make sure that something like this didn’t happen again. 

Furthermore, Carine would initially be mad about the fact that he never reached out to her. But her monologues throughout the film make us feel as though she would forgive her brother at the drop of a hat. She understands that he needed to be on this journey for his own sake. Moreover, she would have wanted to know all about his adventures, and he would have likely told her about Wayne, Jan, Rainey, Tracy, and Ron. He could also have spoken about his struggles and the lessons he learned from them.

However, as time would pass, reality would start seeping in. After the first few days (or weeks), bliss would be replaced by anxiety about the future. It seems likely that Chris’ father would talk to him about finding a job or pursuing law at Harvard, something that the protagonist speaks about at his graduation dinner. Moreover, it would also have been necessary for Chris to go to therapy to deal with the trauma from his childhood.

While Chris would be grateful for the food on his plate and a roof over his head, he also seems like the kind of person who would miss his peripatetic lifestyle. But we feel like his parents would be too scared to let him do something like this again. This is understandable as they still would not have dealt with the shock from the first time. It could be a point of contention between the parents and their son. Healing from the events would be difficult for all members of the McCandless family. Nonetheless, a part of us would also like to believe that they would be able to resolve all their differences in time.

What About Old Man Ron?

Chris forms many meaningful relationships as he journeys to Alaska. But his bond with the old and widowed Ron is one that stands out in particular. The latter is a veteran who lost both his wife and kid in a car accident, following which he took to the bottle. However, over time, he realized that this was no way to honor them, and so he became interested in leather. This hobby of his has sustained him over the years, and Ron even teaches Chris a thing or two. 

In fact, the belt they make together becomes an important visual motif later on that shows exactly how much weight Chris has lost due to lack of food in Alaska. Before the protagonist leaves for the north, Ron expresses that he wants to adopt him as a grandson. Chris replies by saying that they can discuss this after he returns from Alaska, and a teary-eyed Ron bids him farewell.  It is evident that Chris has come to mean a lot to Ron. He reminds the veteran of the family and the happiness he could have had if the drunk driver had not killed his own family so many years ago. After the movie ended, we couldn’t help but feel supremely sad for Ron. Chris succumbs to starvation, and in that manner, the veteran loses the final member of his family. But how would Ron deal with the calamity?

Firstly, it seems as though it would take a while for him to even learn about Chris’ fate. After all, the young boy introduced himself as Alex, and so the latter doesn’t even know Chris’ real name. Once the protagonist’s body is discovered, news about it would spread throughout the country. Ron is a smart man who would end up connecting the dots and would realize that he has lost another person that meant something to him. 

However, owing to Ron’s age, we think that he will not process his emotions with the help of whiskey again. No, he has faced tragic loss before, and certain realizations are bound to stay with him for life. It is highly likely that Ron would start taking time out for himself and finally go on trips, just like the two had discussed. The veteran may feel as though this is the best way to honor Chris’ memory, and in this fashion, the protagonist’s legacy can also live on through Ron. 

Read More: Where Was Into the Wild Filmed?

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