Read the Book
Just before I moved to New Mexico, the film adaptation of The Hours came out. I should have known better than to see the movie, but a good friend of mine wanted to see it, and I wanted to spend time with her before I moved. Also, I hadn’t seen a movie adaptation of a book in a long while. And I do enjoy Nicole Kidman, though I’m not sure why.
When we left the theater, my friend swore she’d never go see another movie adaptation of a book with me. I spent the whole 2 hours drilling my foot into the floor and mumbling “This isn’t how it happened in the book.” When Nicole Kidman/Virginia Woolf had her meltdown at the train station, I had to suppress the urge to walk out of the theatre. There was no reason to invent that scene. To this day, I’ll argue that the movie version of The Hours takes the book’s subtle, rich, compelling female characters and reduces them to one-note emotional train-wrecks.
As you can guess, I will not be seeing the new Sean-Penn directed, mostly stunt-casted movie adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s near-brilliant Into the Wild. I hadn’t heard about this movie adaptation until my husband mentioned it to me in passing, and I’ve been Googling information on the movie all afternoon. I love Krakauer’s book—it’s one of the few books I’ve read multiple times. Every time I read the book, I’m struck anew by both the mystery of Chris McCandless—who was this man, and was he daring or crazy?—and also by the mystery of what he represents in our larger culture. The literary loner, the hero who rejects society for grander schemes, the zealot made largely in America—Krakauer’s exploration of these topics is near perfection.
Now, I understand (on some level) that movies are not meant to be mirrors of the book—that the different medium requires by its very nature changes to the original text. But when I stumbled across the following description on a page promoting the 2007 Live Wild Tour this morning, I began yelling at my computer. Here's how they describe the movie version of McCandless' journey:"INTO THE WILD is based on a true story and the best selling book by Jon Krakauer. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) abandons his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life."
We'll skip over, for starters, the inattention to verb tense. There’s no mention here of the danger in what McCandless did. In fact, it would seem to make McCandless into that same literary loner hero that the real life Chris so misunderstood. Sure, the people he met "along the way... shape[d] his life"—but he was also on an ill-advised, ill-equipped trip that ultimately led to not only his death, but to deeper, more complicated losses for his family and friends. And now Paramount Vintage Films is turning this into the 2007 Live Wild Tour, and encouraging readers to share stories of their own adventures? Have they read the book? Do they know where “living wild” ultimately led Chris McCandless? Do they even want to touch upon the deeper questions inspired by the book? Let me answer that last question: no, they don’t, because there’s more money to be made from simplifying a moral into the story. And we all know how adventure sells these days! Chris went on an adventure and met people who changed his life=money in the bank. Chris as a complicated man guided by forces that can be speculated upon but not always entirely understood=not a very good marketing scheme.
Rather than go to the movie, I'm going to re-read the book. And I'm encouraging everyone I know to do the same.