Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Movie "Into The Wild" A Study of Schizophrenia?



Into The Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless - a twenty two year old man, who decided to leave everything and everyone behind to travel across the United States to live in the Alaskan wilderness.


Many saw his story as an idealistic journey but I wondered if something more was going on. I wondered if some of his behaviors were similar to individuals experiencing Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia frequently surfaces in late adolescence, often making its impact in college age individuals. It is an illness that distorts the ability to think clearly, and is often accompanied by hallucinations &/or delusions, among other symptoms. Schizophrenia is generally stereotyped. Versions of maniacal people cringing in paranoia or hiding in shadows are never accurate depictions. I couldn't help but wonder if Christopher McCandless was experiencing Schizophrenia or something along those lines, and not an unbridled zest for an unencumbered life.

If you saw the movie or read the book , tell me what you think.



38 comments:

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

I have the movie on my list to see but have put it off because I'm get so impacted by movies/books, I have to be in the right frame of mind. Did you ever read "I Know This Much is True" by Wally Lamb? If so what did you think?

Vesper de Vil said...

thanks for reminding me. i'm looking forward to watching this.

Tiptoe said...

I heard about this movie and it is on my "to watch" list. It is good to know that it accurately depicts schizophrenia which often times gets lost in translation.

about jenji said...

Hey Deb.

Schizophrenia, I thought the exact same thing while I was watching this film.

The author, not to mention the screenwriter (Sean Penn), cannot be entirely sure as to the every detail, let alone conversation, regarding this young man's journey, yet I'm sure they are somewhat aware that he may have in fact been schizophrenic.

Truly, I find the omission of this possibility to be dangerous and irresponsible.

As a filmmaker, I'll admit that this film is indeed a beautiful piece of art, but it offers an idealized, glamorized rendition of this man's condition and journey to young impressionable individuals and now young men are following in Christopher's footsteps in an effort to find themselves and/or rebuke modern society.

I saw a story on the echo effect of this film and it's equally as tragic, as many are becoming trapped and/or victimized whilst on their quest for serenity and independence.

In fact, many of these young people are dropping left and right across the mid-west and in particular Alaska, from hypothermia, starvation and disease. Many have even become victims of violence, as do many schizophrenics--that's the reality that has been lost.

As an artist I'm not usually one to critique the pro/con influence and moral responsibility of film and/or the filmmaker, however in this case, Penn might have exercised a bit more discretion and at least incorporated the possibility of mental illness, as impressionable individuals should be aware that life is not as neatly packaged as this story would seem to suggest.

I hope you are well,
jenji

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Deb, I think you would really like the "I Know This Much Is True". Its mainly about two twin brothers, one with schizophrenia, their dysfunctional family, and has a story within a story. I found it a great read and loved the characters he developed. One of my favorite novels.

pscyhphd said...

I watched the movie with the same sense that something was "off." I didn't come to the conclusion of schizophrenia, but his social interactions were definitely bizarre and I wondered about his absence of sexuality. A little further research on the internet about him led me to think that his story was not one of seeking perfection in nature but something else. Yes, I think schizophrenia or maybe schizoid personality?

Lael said...

I just finished the book and came away thinking he had some form of mental illness too. I think the whole situation was so tragic.
I got the same sense of things as Anon. did. He didn't seem to enjoy the life he was living and yet was compelled by a stronger force to keep going forward. I found the book interesting but really came away from it feeling sad and strangely..angry. Not at him of course,but the situation.

J.D. said...

I just saw this movie, (read the book too), and found it very disturbing and haunting. Partly because my family dynamic was similar to his, and I understood his letting his parents go. I also wondered if perhaps he suffered from a mental illness. At the same time, way back in the day, I knew a handful of young men who engaged in similar quests as Chris. I wouldn't say they were all mentally ill. Sometimes, too, I wonder if we kinda see what we know, and that doesn't always make what we see true. Know what I mean?
Cheers,
J.D.

Melissa said...

I saw this movie when it was in the theater. It was clear that this young man was disturbed. I did not specifically think of schizophrenia but I am not well versed in that illness. I too was surprised by his lack of sexuality.

I did not know about the ending before seeing this film. After the movie was over, I had to go into the bathroom and lock myself into a stall and cry until I was able to leave. It was such an emotional film.

Id it is said...

I have reserved this one in my local library after reading a review. Your post makes me want to read it even more. I also wonder if the book and the movie are about the same...

phd in yogurtry said...

I have not seen it yet, my neighbors own a copy and its just a matter of remembering to borrow it. Since hearing about it, I've wondered "Was he Bipolar?" I did not think of Schizophrenia. I'll watch it and tell you what I think. It makes perfect sense though. What I would presume will be the presence of social detachment, in particular.

I read "I Know This Much is True" by Lamb. Its been a few years. Overall I liked the book very much. I remember the healthy twin's struggle. There were some therapy scenes in the latter part of the book, but I'm forgetting the details. I have this vague memory of feeling disappointed by the ending, but not enough to discredit what the book offered.

ellesu said...

Oh, oh, oh! How interesting. My husband and I watched the film not long ago -- expecting something different. As we were watching, my husband kept saying that Christopher McCandless was so similar to our oldest son. Early on in the movie I said I would send our son the book. But when it started going bad I changed my mind. Didn't matter because we found out our son has read the book.

Anyway, thanks. He's run the gamut for social workers to psychiatrits and Schizophrenia has never been mentioned. I'm definitely going to look into this.

Ian Lidster said...

I rarely run in the direction of new movies, but this is one I'd like to see. I've read the book, and found it relentlessly depressing and fascinating at the same time, so I am interested to see what sort of film Sean Penn turned out.

Leesa said...

Thanks for the movie suggestion. I will have to check it out.

MYSTI said...

I haven't seen the movie, but will look out for it. :)

Lynn said...

I haven't seen the movie, but if it is the one my husband told me about where the guy leaves his well off parents and starves or freezes to death in the wilderness, then I actually did come up with a metaphor immediately as he was still telling me the story (a little projection, perhaps). Mine was this:

Something was not right in the family of origin. Perhaps there was a cold parent, some trauma, or abuse, or the parents refused to connect with this guy to give him permission to be himself. He had to choose. The 'real him', or the 'fake him' that his family would accept. He chose himself, but he was a little too wounded to have what most would consider proper reasoning skills. His soul might believe that he made the right decision in a way, though, because he chose to be free. The metaphor? Maybe it was 'Live free or die'. I wish someone could know the true and real details of what it was that he needed freedom from so he could have a witness, even though it would be too late to save his life. He deserves a real witness.

Midwife with a Knife said...

I'm going to comment, having not seen the movie or read the book.

I grew up in Alaska.

To take off to live in the wilderness alone like the "Into the Wild" guy did is either suicidal or shows some serious disconnect with reality. Schizophrenia in this setting wouldn't surprise me.

Maybe I'll see the movie one day. I think about it and then think to myself, "I don't feel like watching a movie about suicide today."

jumpinginpuddles said...

we havent seen it but i think we will.

OHN said...

How ironic that my 18 year old just watched this movie yesterday for a school project. My older son (his brother age 19 1/2) has been diagnosed in the past with "probable" bipolar disorder. Without mentioning your take on the movie, I asked my 18 year old what he thought and he said that the Christopher Mccandless character reminded him alot of his brother...hmmmmmm. I have often wondered if my oldest was truly bipolar, the diagnosis never seemed to fit to me, now I am wondering if that early diagnosis was off and we could possibly be looking at schizophrenia. I don't know where to begin.

Big Brother said...

I'll have to see that one. Another film about schizophrenia that I found interesting was the film, "A Beautiful Mind". Such a brilliant mind descending into chaos and then learning to live with his illness.

Marj aka Thriver said...

I saw this movie in the theatre and also thought it was an excellent piece of art. As far as accurately telling a true story, however, I also thought something was quite off.

*WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD*

It seemed obvious to me that he was running away FROM something rather than going in search to FIND something.

There was a real inconsistency in his planning. He had books on edible wild plants and got instruction on how to kill, slaughter and store wild game (which he was not successful at in the field, by the way--had he been he may have lived) but he didn't seem to know anything about flash flooding (like where he ended up abandoning his car) or the effects of the spring thaw. He didn't even have his own pair of boots for crying out loud!

I did see moments of pure, free joy depicted in the film, but I also saw great regret and suffering. It was a tragic way to cut short a young life.

Tha BossMack TopSoil said...

Deb, i always take your advice, I will check this movie out ;-)

jane said...

I read this book a few years back & considered it quite boring. The only reason I finished the book was to finish the book. (I don't mean to be rude, I'm trying to be honest) When I heard they made a movie out of it, I was stunned. I couldn't imagine how they could possibly make that book interesting.
BUT...when I read the book I never considered he might be schizophrenic, if I had I undoubtedly would have seen it through completely different eyes. Unfortunately, I've given the book away & doubt I'd read it again anyways.
I think I will watch the movie.

CrackerLilo said...

I've never seen it, but I ask a very simple (and probably very difficult at the same time) question:

How do you tell the difference?

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I would agree that Christopher McCandless suffered from an illness although I didn't realize it was schizophrenia. What I couldn't understand was why Sean Penn felt McCandless was heroic.

People in Alaska thought it was downright "stupid" for McCandless to live in the wild without proper preparation and supplies. And now there are a slew of folks visiting the bus where he died as if it's a shrine. I felt McCandless' death was tragic and unnecessary.

Susan

Raine said...

Another one huh? I felt that Timothy Treadwell was bi-polar and that someone should have medicated that guy instead of letting him keep going to Alaska til he finally got himself eaten. I will have to read this book.

patrick said...

It was tragic that McCandless died out there in the wilderness; but then again, so many people have benefited from his story... a couple of years of hitchhiking led to his story challenging thousands (millions?) of people to reexamine their lives

catatonickid said...

Really interesting point. I saw this recently and I came away from it with the impression that the journey was somewhat allegorical like Dante's descent. It does seem like a perfect fit, in many ways, for the loss of one's connection with your underlying self that so often accompanies schizophrenia.

My Uncle is schizophrenic and growing up with him (he lived with us for many years) was really this journey, into the wilderness of the mind. The schizophrenic has always seemed like a seeker to me, and it isn't a wholly internalised search as with many mental illnesses - more often it's about reaching into the world but it is a world that's remote from the one most of us share, and distorted.

So yes, the wilderness/ distance from shared space and the wandering loneliness make a lot of sense if his journey is seen as being into the wilds of the mind too. There's something that remains eternally unfinished with schizophrenia which I definitely saw reflected in this movie.

Perhaps it's because the loss that accompanies schizophrenic illness is not for what was so much as for what might have been which is what this sort of wandering journey is about (like, say, in Kerouac's On The Road).

Bee Repartee said...

I haven't watched this one. I read about it when it first came out and couldn't.

It's just good to have discussions such as this to raise awareness and full understanding, without misconception, of how schizophrenia presents.

Rurality said...

I've read the book but haven't seen the movie, so I'm not sure how similar they are. The author took pains to state that although many people thought the young man was mentally ill, he didn't. (I think the author identified with him in many areas.)

I thought he had some sort of problem, though schizophrenia didn't occur to me. He definitely seemed to have a willful ignorance of reality.

I would be very interested to know if you still had this theory after reading the book as well!

Rich S said...

I watched this movie tonight with my girlfriend she read the book years ago. While most of the comments tended to lean toward Chris's schizophrenia I was really upset at his final demise! They was a part of me that wanted to just be there at the final moment to reach out and just hug him. To me he seemed to be running from the past but along his journey he found and touched many different people. I was left with one question. Did any or all of those people he met actally find out about his passing?? Just a thought!

rich

Rich S said...

I just watched this movie tonight with my girlfriend. While most people that viewed it concluded he was mentally ill was to a degree correct.
But my human side just wanted to reach out and just hug him when we witnessed his last moments on this planet. It does seem to me that he was running from the past but I was moved by the people he touched along his journey. I wonder if all of them found out about his death??

rich

Lost Pixie said...

I read the book some time ago, but just watched the film this weekend. Both are outstanding. That said, I've never had the sense that Christopher McCandless was suffering from any kind of mental illness. Many young people at different times in history (most recently the 1960s, 1970s, 1990s) have rejected society and its norms. Many have "dropped out" and some have died--but few have done so dramatically enough to have had a book and film made about them. Methodically destroying the paper trail that would have allowed his family to find him, earning money before the Alaska trip with the intent of buying supplies (however naive his supply list may have been), even his prior trip down the Colorado River--this seems to suggest orderly--not disordered--thought. My sense too was that he planned to rejoin society (or at least people) once he'd completed his "last big adventure"--instead he died. I doubt he thought he would die in Alaska, though certainly he must have thought he might. But young people never think they actually will die in dangerous situations. This seems like a terrible mistake, not the delusional wanderings of someone suffering from mental illness.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie first and just read the book for a college english class. I don't know enough about schizophrenia to be able to begin to try to classify a person as suffering from this disease, but I will say something had to be wrong with Chris McCandless.
He made a new name for himself "Alexander Supertramp" and when he wrote in his diary he referred to himself in the third person. He wanted to get away to destroy the inner evil or something like that.
He could not stand being around other people, even beginning in his college years.
Something, definately something was wrong. He's gone now but I hope those that need help get it and get better.

M.

Scams on the Internet said...

I watched the movie for the first time and although it was a good movie, it's sad to think an intelliegnt college educated 22 year old would have gone and lived like that alone. It's not normal for a 22 year old to want to be alone like that. So it makes me think as well that he was mentally unstable. Im very experienced in wilderness backpacking and canoeing and some of the stuff that he did in the movie takes years of learning.He came off as being this great Kayaker to which ...its not like that at all. You certainly dont jump into a kayak and run extreme rapids like they showed in the movie. So no, I do not see this young man being any hero at all. It seems like he ran from any problems he had. Yes I do think he had some major mental issues. Kind of dumb to burn your money and bury your ID as well. So no, this movie is a "what not to do" instead of..."this guy was a hero" . Bottom line....don't run away from your problems, cause we all have them. What he did was a very dangerous thing and it is what cost him his life and Im hoping this movie doent give unexperienced people the idea they can go and just do this kind of stuff in back country that you may not see a soul for many months and have no means to feed yourself.

Lynn said...

Dr. Deb, the 1st time I saw this movie, I, too, thought Chris may have had the initial onset of schizophrenia. The second time I viewed the movie, I became convinced that he had a fragile and then a fractured psyche. I think he was absolutely devastated in learning of his father's transgressions which caused his identity heretofore, to implode. For 20 plus years, he had no knowledge that his father was still married to another woman and had never married his mother. He did not have the coping skills and this was complicated by the fact that he was going through the typical "I abhor my parents and all that they believe" phase. He became reckless-but so many of us do at that age. I don't think his ideals were delusional either. He was still young and searching-specifically for happiness I believe. Something I can certainly identify with. I may be a tad prejudiced, however as I have felt for a long time that Manic depression; Schizophrenia; Bi polar disorders et al, have become the diseases du jour. This, after working in Social Services for 33 years. Regardless, I'm just not near convinced that he was schizophrenic.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the story of Christopher McCandless is one of a traumatized teen suffering from mental illness. I haven't read or heard enough about him to know for sure but it definitely seems that the character was at least bipolar. I'm not sure that Chris could have developed the relationships he did or gotten as far as he did had he been schizophrenic. He was very functional in many ways and was able to establish lofty goals and meet them. This seems much more like mania seen in Bipolar Disorder than schizophrenia.

Lillith said...

Very interesting comments regarding this film. I too watched it recently...I am not a psychologist nor psychiatrist so I feel that I am not in any position to diagnosis anyone least of all a person that I have never met. That being said I don't feel that the film over glorified Chris in fact I often found myself quite frightened for him...he seemed to have a nail biting fearlessness that my 10 year old displays. I was surprised that he actually made it to the Alaskan wilderness. There were many places on his journey that he could have been killed or hurt and died. Sometimes, I felt that his ego kept him in delusion at times his lack of preparation for surviving in the Alasakan wilderness etc. he is a Wilderness Guides nightmare,many survivalists complain that people naively walk into the woods and assume they can just wing it only to die from starvation and exposure later. If they are lucky they are found by a rescue party but that doesn't always happen. I was fascinated that such a young person was able actively go out and seek life and happiness. Chris was exploring questions raised by middle-aged adults at the tender age of 22?! Is it the juxtaposition of his smiling face and the fact that he is dying that confuses me and frightens me at the same time...in his writings he seemed to be aware that he was dying and he was lonely and frightened but there also seemed to be a certain acceptance of that reality. One of the first questions I asked myself "is he crazy?" the second question I asked myself "what if he is not?" Both left me with a happy uncomfortable feeling.