Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Only real

"Happiness only real when shared."

For those who know where this quote comes from, good for you at having seen Into the Wild. This is a film that I always wanted to watch but never devoted the time to see. Something a few years ago spoiled me on it. A little trivial item made it so I was not interested in watching the film, no matter how good I'd heard it was. The something was Kristen Stewart.

Now that I've finally sat down and watched the entire film, I realize what a stupid hesitation that was. For one, Kristen Stewart plays barely any role in the film (and the little that her character does is not as terrifically awful as her performance in the Twilight film franchise). And secondly, if you have any inclination that a film will be good you should not cower away simply because some actress you don't always appreciate is in the film. One person can't drag a whole production down.

Especially when said production has so much heart and soul.

At first this film struck me as something a bit too melodramatic and frivolous. Those sound like contradictory terms, but what with all the overzealous mentions of transcendentalist theory coupled with river scenes and mountainous landscapes, I just assumed I would never get past the feeling of being a spectator watching a nature show.

It's true that the beginning of the film really forces this genre into your skull. All the music is folk or country-sounding, all very earthy and cynical bluegrass-sounding tunes. They serve as a backdrop for open air scenes and images of "roughing it" without the gore (until we get to the dismembering of animals, but I'll refrain from talking of that in detail) and discomfort of reality.

Then as it steadily progressed, it became clear that there was another agenda bubbling under the surface.

I think I felt it when I turned on the movie and one of the initial scenes involved the mother of Alex Supertramp (Chris McCandless) crying about a dream she'd had where her son was still alive. Having gone into this film without any knowledge of how it ended, I guess it just struck me as abrupt to be introduced to a character as deceased without having even met him before. Perhaps it was my fault because I didn't know the story in advance (it is a true story, after all), but maybe that was the intention of the filmmakers. To stun you with the truth so early on, that you almost can't believe it as you watch this spritely kid run around America (and Mexico) on his way to his Alaskan adventure.

This movie, and I suppose the source material as well, is full of surprises and character dynamism. While it definitely develops like any old "journey" novel - in which a character goes from place to place meeting new people and having adventures - there's this narrative that ends up following Alex, even when he tries to hide away from it.

And it's proven by that one quote that he scribbles down in a book toward the end of his life.

While it's not a comparable situation exactly, as I was watching Alex write down those words in the film, I thought a lot about my mom in the last few years of her life. After suffering a stroke, she became paralyzed on her right side and could no longer walk, speak or even write quite properly for the rest of her life. Thinking back on it now, it pains me deeply to know that inside her mind there were still so many thoughts and there was still so much life, but all I could see of it were tiny scribblings on paper.

When you become paralyzed - as Alex does in the film due to the consumption of poisonous berries - it doesn't reduce your ability to think, but it does change the relationship between your ability to think and the transfer of that thought to your motor neurons. Even if you can process information, it doesn't mean you can necessarily turn that into action.

It's like those dreams when you're running but your legs just can't move fast enough. The idea of that terrifies me. And watching the film, it was all I could focus on.

But there was an even greater message here - one that was wholly related, but also inherently separate. The message was about love.

Ages ago, back when I was young enough to be happily ignorant of my mother's plight after her stroke, I didn't understand just how much love she needed. Because she wasn't the person I thought I knew anymore, our relationship faltered. We started to know each other less and less. She let me move on with my life and I let her. Or I guess I forced her to.

In that time, when my mother most needed to communicate, to share her love and her knowledge and her experience with someone, I wasn't there to read the wobbly text written in her books. Instead, I let the problem go unnoticed and when she was happy, I didn't pay her as much attention as she deserved. When she was sad, it only drove me further away.

One of the many messages to take away from Into the Wild is the power of the human relationship. Though Alex tried desperately to separate himself from humanity - to remove himself from all of the troubles it can bring - he found that in the end it was cutting himself off from others that ensured his demise.

It wasn't my mother's fault that she was cut off. She wanted to share her happiness with everyone, particularly me. And while I know I can never go back and be the perfect daughter that I wish I had been, I can tell her - wherever she is (and as someone who likes to believe in the power of the human spirit, I don't rule out the possibility of her standing right next to me at this moment) - that I was listening even when it seemed like I wasn't. And I always did care, and I always will.

There's something really fascinating about a movie that purports to be one thing, but then shows itself as something completely different. Into the Wild was just that. But maybe it tried to communicate its message early on as well. By subtle means.

Either way, it was only once the meaning was shared that it could finally be appreciated. Just like happiness. Just like love.

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