Into the Wild is such a compelling story because it touches on another kind of fundamentalism. Instead of an unwavering belief in God, we find a boy with the unwavering belief that his life must take a new course. He leaves behind his family and a lot of assumed future stability to plunge himself into communities on the fringe of society. He sets out to erase his old identity and create another. The film version of the book begins by showing us the outcome of this quest, with Alexander Supertramp (nee Christopher McCandless) stepping off-the-grid into the Alaskan wilderness. Readers of Krakauer's book know that McCandless never returned from the wild. The book begins by stating the fact that McCandless was found dead months after he entered the wild in a remote location, severely malnourished. Krakauer does an interesting job of going back in time, without following many traditional narrative conventions, to tell the story of how an average boy like McCandless ended up dying in such an unusual way, thousands of miles from his home and family.
The DVD version of the film is wonderful because it includes an extra disk and several special features that provide more depth into the story and Sean Penn's adaptation of Into the Wild. As a follow-up to the book, I found the movie both rewarding and disappointing. Penn couldn't (or wouldn't) follow the non-linear hops that Krakauer used to tell the story, so the emotional elements are a bit hollow. We know that McCandless is going to die and that the people trying to align their lives with his are doomed to failure. The actual characters he meets along his journey are written for film and portrayed brilliantly, but it would have been much better if Penn had created a different way of organizing the events. If Penn's Into the Wild draws a few people into the book, it will have succeeded and it represents what we hope is a precedent for more of Krakauer's work to be translated to film.