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Is Into The Wild a True Story?

December 30, 2020
5 min read

Sean Penn’s directorial venture, ‘Into the Wild,’ is a moving yet tragic tale about a young man who gives up all material possessions to pursue a vagabond existence. The film encompasses various themes, such as the true meaning of life, family, love, support, and the essence of the human spirit. As such, many people wondered if the plot was inspired by real events. Well, we’re here to answer any such queries, so hold on tight because there’s a lot to discuss.

Is Into The Wild Based on a True Story?

Yes, ‘Into The Wild’ is based on a true story. The screenplay was adapted from Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name. It discusses the life of Christopher Johnson McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp), an Emory University graduate who gave it all up to live a nomadic life. He journeyed across North America and eventually made it to Alaska in 1992, where he breathed his last. But to understand the man and his motivations, we must first learn more about his background. 

Image Credit: Carine McCandless, Colorado Public Radio

Chris was born in El Segundo, California, to Wilhelmina “Billie” McCandless and Walter “Walt” McCandless in 1968. He had a younger sister, Carine, and six half-siblings from Walt’s first marriage. However, both of Walt’s relationships overlapped and Chris’ half-brother, Quinn, was born after him. It was almost as if Walt lead a double life. In 1976, the family relocated to Annandale, Virginia, where the father was employed with NASA. 

Carine went on to write a book about the entire ordeal called ‘The Wild Truth.’ In it, she claims that her father was an alcoholic and that her parents often inflicted verbal, physical, and sexual abuse on them and each other. This unhappy domestic situation really had an impact on Chris, and it is believed that this was one of the major factors that made him adopt the nomadic lifestyle later on.

An excerpt from Carine’s book described a beating that the two children received: “The snap of the leather was sharp and quick between our wails. I will never forget craning my neck in search of leniency, only to see the look of sadistic pleasure that lit up my father’s eyes and his terrifying smile — like an addict in the climax of his high.” However, both parents went on to deny the claims that the daughter had made. 

Chris was academically gifted and was also the captain of the cross-country team at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. In 1990, he graduated from Emory University with degrees in history and anthropology. It was at this point in his life that he adopted an itinerant lifestyle. He even donated $24,000 to OXFAM, which was his college savings. By the end of that summer, he had made his way to Carthage, South Dakota, where he worked in a grain elevator.

But Chris’ ultimate destination was Alaska, and in April of 1992, he hitchhiked to Fairbanks. A local electrician named Jim Gallien had given him a ride to Stampede Trail, outside the town of Healy. Chris had introduced himself as Alex, and Jim also stated that he was quite worried about the boy’s ability to survive in the wild. Although the electrician apparently tried to convince Chris to delay this forsaken trip, the latter was quite adamant and refused to give in. 

Eventually, Chris came across an abandoned bus near Denali National Park, which was where he set up camp. He had some rice, a gun, a few books, some camping gear, and some personal effects on him. He also maintained a journal, which tells us that his source of food was either the plants that he foraged or the animals that he was able to hunt. In the film, a turning point for the character is when he is unable to successfully preserve the meat of a moose that he shoots. In real life, this event did take place. 

After over two months there, Chris wanted to return to civilization. However, the trail was blocked by the ferocious Teklanika River and he did not have a map of the area either. Furthermore, he was unaware that an abandoned hand-operated cable car was in the vicinity, and it could have helped him exit. He went back to the bus and even left an S.O.S. note that stated that he was injured, near death, and needed help. 

Image Credit: ‘Into The Wild,’ Netflix

It was on September 6, 1992, that a group of hunters came across the bus and contacted authorities. Inside, Chris’ decomposing body was discovered in a sleeping bag. The exact date and time of his passing are unknown. However, it was speculated that he died two weeks before his remains were found and that he could have accidentally poisoned himself.

Read More: Beautiful Quotes From Into the Wild

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