The American biographical drama survival film Into the Wild was written and directed by Sean Penn in 2007. The movie is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s 1996 non-fiction book of the same name.
Krakauer wrote about the travels of Christopher McCandless across North America and his life spent in the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s.
Christopher Johnson McCandless, who also went by the name of “Alexander Supertramp”, was an American hiker and itinerant traveler who abandoned all his possessions and hiked off into the wilderness. He grew up in suburban Annandale, Virginia.
After graduating from college in 1990, McCandless ceased communicating with his family, gave away his college fund of $25,000 to Oxfam, and traveled the United States, eventually hitchhiking to Alaska in April 1992.
His purpose was to reconnect with nature, so he set out in an abandoned bus along an old mining road known as the Stampede Trail. With minimal supplies, he hoped to simply live off the land.
He had 10 pounds of rice, a 22 caliber rifle, several boxes of rifle rounds, a camera, and a small selection of reading material. He survived more than a 100 days in the wilderness, yet around the week of August 18, 1992, he died of starvation.
In the movie, the Alaska scenes depicting the area around the abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail were filmed 50 miles south of where McCandless actually died, in the tiny town of Cantwell. A replica of the bus was built because filming at the actual bus would have been too remote for the technical demands of a movie shoot. The original bus has become a well-known destination for hikers. Known as “The Magic Bus”, the 1946 International Harvester was abandoned by road workers in 1961 on the Stampede Trail, where it remains to this day.
Affixed to the interior, there is a plaque in McCandless’ memory. McCandless died in the abandoned bus: his decomposing body, weighing only 30 kilograms, was later found by hunters.
His cause of death was officially ruled to be starvation, although the exact cause remains the subject of some debate. In his book, Krakauer suggests two factors may have contributed to McCandless’ death.
The author speculated that McCandless might have been poisoned by a toxic alkaloid called swainsonine. In the movie, the character confuses similar plants and eats a poisonous one, falling sick as a result.
Slowly dying, he realizes that no one can be happy without other people so he imagines his family for the last time. He writes a farewell to the world and crawls into his sleeping bag to die.