From Into the Wild to Captain Fantastic: the difficult challenge to life

The confrontation between man and nature it has been resumed in countless different works, making the spectators reflect by connecting to many other very layered and profound themes, including the alienation of modern man.
The same technology, which has obviously brought immense benefits to the entire human race, has also brought out its darker sides, including the depersonalization of the individual and, in some cases, the very detachment from reality, perhaps more than ever. in the last decade.
If we talk about contemporary society, it is sometimes impossible not to look at capitalism and consumerism, able to be part of our daily life in a total way, as well as to the entire world of social networks, full of strengths but also of some conspicuous critical issues.
It could therefore be said, albeit greatly simplifying the question, that many people born in the north of the world – often not having to face problems strictly related to survival due to the lack of structural resources of their country of origin – found themselves living in a social context from the rails if we want preset, in which a standard course of study, followed by the objectives of starting a family and finding a stable job, have become the founding basis.
Yet this climate of apparent well-being, in which it is possible to buy what you want, has actually led more and more people to dislike certain distortions currently present in our society, sometimes overly materialistic.
Into the Wild e Captain Fantastic, two films released in 2007 and 2016 respectively, have tried, in their own way, to focus on the issue. Let’s find out how, analyzing both the strengths and weaknesses of the extremely radical life choices made by the protagonists of the films.

An endless search

In the movie Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn and based on the true story of Christopher McCandless (taken from the book by Jon Krakauer In the extreme lands), we see a wealthy young man consciously choosing to leave everything behind (friends, material possessions and loved ones) after graduating.
The choice that the protagonist makes at the beginning of the film is enough by itself to open a really high number of considerations on our own modern society, ever faster and often exaggeratedly a slave to capitalism.
The journey of Alexander Supertramp (this is the pseudonym that the 22-year-old decides to use) thus leads us to discover ourselves, first of all trying to make us reflect on everything that surrounds us and on what we absolutely take for granted.
The very concept of compromise thus probably becomes fundamental for understanding the protagonist’s need for escape, since it is the world itself that forces us, so to speak, to adapt to the most basic rules of civilization, so as not to be treated simply as misfits, hermits or fools. A compromise that sometimes becomes unsustainable.

Deciding to leave everything out of the blue, as well as being a very courageous choice, becomes the same way a strongly extremist and at times reckless option, even if the same figure of Chris is never painted with heroic or solemn veins, leaving it to the spectators to evaluate his choices in the best possible way from any point of view.
Choices that, in addition to the dangers they can hide, also contain in them a certain very marked propensity for adventure.
The protagonist, literally feeling suffocated by a world and a family with which he cannot fully integrate, chooses to make a journey into the unknown, the unexplored, the unfathomable.
At the base of Chris’s journey, however, there is a noble purpose, that is, the search for his own happiness or, perhaps, its primal meaning.
The film, presented by chapters, is almost a sort of postmodern coming-of-age novel, in which we see the main character literally come into the world for the second time, through an intimate and profound journey of personal growth made up of encounters with other people (from which he will always be able to learn something useful while comparing himself with himself) and solitary stops in the harsh territories of Alaska, his final destination.

What superficially could appear only as the eccentric desire for escape of a wealthy young man, perhaps in reality hides something much deeper, rooted in the very concept of existentialism.
The macro-theme of modern man’s rapprochement with nature, however difficult and at times impossible today, in Into the Wild finds an excellent point of reference, showing us at times the wonders that uncontaminated nature can offer and how healthy it can be, at times, to detach ourselves from any material good to set out in search of our true self, putting aside social superstructures.

In Captain Fantastic, a 2016 film directed by Matt Ross, we find the father of the family Ben Cash (played by Viggo Mortesen), who has decided to live away from the chaos of the city together with his many children, managing to support himself through hunting, agriculture and trying as much as possible not to go down to compromises with civilization.
However, following a tragic event that occurs in the very first part of the film (his wife, forced to hospitalize in an attempt to cure a bipolar mood disorder, commits suicide), Ben decides to go with his children to his sweetheart’s funeral, leaving for New Mexico on an adventure, once again, with a strong flavor of classic postmodern education.

Cash’s children, who grew up staying far from civilization, are however extremely prepared both from a didactic and physical point of view, managing without problems to engage in the most disparate discussions, as well as to be agile and snappy due to the numerous workouts to which they are are subjected.
The journey to reach the deceased mother however, it will lead them to collide with the real world, particularly able to raise more than a doubt to all young people about their way of life, given that the comparison with their relatives, but also with simple strangers integrated into normal society, will push them to reflect on their way of approaching in the world.

Although of a choral nature, the work focuses precisely on the figure of Ben, a strict and inflexible father who still loves his children very much, but unable to make healthy self-criticism about his way of behaving.
In any case, even in Captain Fantastic let’s see how important it can be rediscover contact with nature, sometimes able to welcome us also to allow us to deepen and study a large number of existential doubts and philosophical questions, living free from all distortions of modern society, without obviously neglecting the other side of the coin.

Beyond the limit

The search for one’s own happiness, which for the protagonists of the works in question passes from unshakable desire to get as far away from civilization as possible as we know it, even going so far as to deny it, it thus assumes a sometimes utopian value, in which an ideal ecosystem made only of singularities perfectly incorporated into the natural world becomes something much closer to an abstract conception of living.
In fact, if hermits have always existed, arriving at such a drastic choice obviously also involves a whole series of long-standing problems capable of taking the human being himself beyond his limits.
The same Christopher McCandless, somehow managed to find a kind of inner serenity just experiencing first-hand the wonders given by the return to nature and a lifestyle much closer to that of ancient times than to modern ones, however, following a tragic fatality, he finds himself unable to leave his base camp , arriving at the ultimate thought that happiness can only be real if shared.

It is Ben Cash himself, at a certain point in the film, despite his intransigence, who realizes that he has gone too far with his way of thinking and doing, not so much about himself but towards the safety of his children. , since he basically imposed only one way of life on him, his own.
The concepts of extremism and compromise thus they come back predominantly in both films, providing us with useful tools to let us individually develop a personal (and certainly layered) point of view on the subject.

These two works are therefore able to put us at a crossroads, showing us the positive sides of a way of thinking outside the box, of pushing a lot on self-determination, in which it is us and only us who choose how to live, obviously on condition that we are aware of all the risks that certain choices entail.
But the inclination not to want to come to terms in any way with the world around us for the most varied reasons (because we don’t like it, because we don’t understand it, because we can’t really be part of it) it will lead us inexorably towards an uphill path which, unfortunately, will push us much closer to self-destruction than self-improvement.

Compromise, perhaps, therefore remains the most viable path, thus allowing us not to exaggerate either on one side or on the other, but still managing to develop a healthy critical spirit necessary to better face the numerous challenges that life will always and in any case place before us.

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