Sean Penn & Alexander Supertramp
Posted by bmac on December 4, 2007
Yesterday I was flicking through channels on TV, and came across an episode of “Iconoclasts” on the Sundance channel, featuring Sean Penn and John Krakauer. Normally I would move on, but I thought I’d see what lunacy Penn had to spew for possible blog fodder, and the Krakauer guy (an adventurer and writer) seemed kind of interesting. These two were brought together by the subject of a book written by Krakauer, and now a film by Penn, Chris McCandless, AKA “Alexander Supertramp.”
The story of McCandless is a faint blip on my radar, as he died in 1992 on an ill-fated journey into the Alaskan wilderness, and I had forgotten completely about it, till I saw this show, and found myself fascinated by this kid’s story. The short version:
McCandless, from a wealthy family, graduated college, cut up his credit cards, burned his social security card, donated his savings of 24,000 dollars to charity, cut ties with his family, and hit the road for two years, and ultimately ended up in the wild of Alaska, where he starved to death in an abandoned bus that was his makeshift home for 112 days. He documented his travels with pictures and a journal. Excerpts from his journal appear in Krakauers book, but only a few of his photo’s have been released by his family, including this one, self taken in front of the bus he died in, before things went south for him.
You can read the full story here.
Unbeknownst to me, this kid has become a cult hero of sorts, due to Krakauer’s bestselling book “Into The Wild,” and now the film by Penn will further add to his mythic status among young idealists. I’m not sure why I’m fascinated by this story, because the kid was a bit of an idiot, and at the end of the day, basically committed suicide, but I’m fascinated nonetheless.
The bus McCandless died in, originally put there as a shelter for hunters, has become a destination for like minded idealists, and surprisingly, remains virtually as he left it, with his belongings still inside after 15 years. I say surprisingly because hippie worshipers usually grotesquely deface the shrines of their heroes, ala Jim Morrison’s grave, but maybe the remote location makes it hard for any but the most zealous seekers to get to.
When McCandless failed to get out of the wild, due to an uncrossable river, (because of melting glaciers), he began to starve, and finally, realizing he was about to die, took one last picture of himself, rail thin, smiling, and holding a sign that read:
“I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all.”
Tragic. This picture is heartbreaking to me, and even though it’s his own fault, I feel sorry for this kid. I don’t find anything heroic about dying alone of starvation in an old bus deep in the Alaskan wild. On the other hand, I have some level of respect for people that take chances in life, and accept the consequences as McCandless clearly did. He wasn’t looking to be a hero, but the likes of Sean Penn are gonna try and turn this tragic story into something it wasn’t.
McCandless was a hard core lefty, and the fact he burned his social security card, and gave his life savings to charity and “dropped out” is what has fueled the interest in him, especially from Penn. From what I can tell, Krakauers book doesn’t necessarily glamorize McCandless, because it points out all the bad decisions McCandless made that eventually took his life. Penn on the other hand, is trying to make McCandless a hero to his core audience, the Looney Left, and environmentalist types, many of whom will undoubtedly set out on their own journeys trying to ape McCandless, and some will surely end badly. I’ve seen the trailer, (which I won’t post here) and Penn clearly glamorizes McCandless as a kind of modern day Kerouac, instead of the somewhat hapless dreamer that McCandless was.
Watching Penn during this one hour show, in which he and Krakauer re-trace McCandless’ Alaskan journey, it was obvious what an angry, miserable prick Sean Penn really is. At one point while they’re in a tiny town in Alaska, a girl who is having her Bachelorette party recognizes Penn, and asks for a picture. Penn responds by being totally put out, as if in this tiny little town in Alaska, he’s gonna be over run by fans. Which is laughable, because earlier in the show, he was carded trying to buy liquor. I feel sorry for Penn’s family, he must be a million laughs to be around.
As much as I don’t think McCandless was or should be any kind of hero, at least he had the balls a Sean Penn will never have. It’s easy to sit back on millions of dollars, and make a movie about a kid who willingly walked away from civilization to his own death, and act like he’s some kind of role model. I wonder if Penn would encourage his own kids to do it, because his movie is gonna encourage other people’s kids to go on a trip that some may not come back from. Will you take responsibilty for that Sean?