Into the wild

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Film Synopsis

After graduating from college, Christopher McCandless abandons the familiar things in his life, most of his possessions, and backpacks throughout North America with his goal of ending up in Alaska. Much of his desire to stray from a normal life comes from his need to separate from his emotionally draining upbringing. His desperate journey be different than what society says is “right” leads him to meet many people along the way and learn many lessons. Based on a true story

Discussion Guide

This discussion guide is designed to be used in conjunction with the 2009/2010 Common Book “Growing Up” and Residence Life Cinema showing of Into the Wild. It is intended to help college students look at issues addressed in the book and in the movie and at the ways those issues affect their lives. This guide can help you facilitate the discussion of these issues. It is not necessary to use all of the discussion questions. Instead, take a minute to look over the suggestions listed below and 1choose the ones that meet the needs and personality of your audience. These suggestions are intended to assist you, not to limit you. Feel free to modify or elaborate them to suit your needs. Most important, make an effort to see the movie and consider the questions in advance so that you do not approach the program “cold”. The movies are available accessible on campus on Cable Channel 20 and are also available for rent from or The discussion facilitator may choose to utilize one of the following activities as a means of developing discussion:

Programming Suggestions

  • Throughout the film, Chris learned many lessons from people he encountered. Throughout the book, Growing Up, Russell Baker learned many lessons from people he encountered. Set up a discussion on your floor/in your residence hall that contrasts the 2 journeys

  • Throughout the film, Chris gets rid of many of his material possessions which he deems unnecessary. Russell goes through life without many material possessions due to his family’s poverty status. Organize a clothing drive on your floor or in your building to help a local charity or see if there are other items that charity could use which your residents could donate.

  • Nature and the outdoors are a prevalent part of this film. Find a park in the country near your school and have a bonfire with your floor. If this isn’t possible, consider doing an “indoor campfire” in your lobby complete with a fake fire, s’mores, dimmed lights, and other campfire essentials.

An important consideration in choosing any facilitation option is that all students have an opportunity to participate. Be aware that many of the topics addressed in the film are not often talked about in public settings. Students who attend the program may have varying degrees of comfort level with the discussion.

Discussion Questions:

  • What can you learn about yourself when you are away from distractions and alone? Do you look for opportunities to get away?

  • Christopher got rid of all savings and destroyed his IDs. What are some of the long term implications of doing this?

  • Thinking about Chris doing away with all his material possessions and Russell growing up without many material possessions, what are some material items in your life you could definitely do without?

  • Chris carved into the wood, “No longer to be poisoned by civilization, he flees and walks along the land to become lost in the wild.” Do you ever feel that civilization “poisons” you? If so, what ways does civilization “poison” us?

  • Christopher gave himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp. Have you ever wanted to change your name and if so, why?

  • What are some decisions you saw Christopher make which you could consider unsafe?

  • What was the best way you saw Christopher use an unlikely resource in this movie?

  • It is revealed that Christopher’s parents talked of getting a divorce when he was younger, but never did and it’s explained how this hurts their family. Do you think sometimes divorce is the right answer for families?

  • We also find out Christopher’s father had a child from a previous marriage, along with other family issues he kept from his family. How do family secrets like this hurt children? Russell led a very different lifestyle. His mother agreed to let his aunt and uncle adopt his sister due to Russell’s family’s financial problems during The Great Depression.

  • Do you have anyone in your family who seems to view the world much differently than you do? What do your interactions with them look like?

  • Christopher’s parents hired private investigators to try to find him. Do you think Christopher should have saved his family the grief and told him what he was doing or would that conversation have been too hard?

  • Do you ever feel like you are the person in your family who is different than everyone else? What is hard about being in that position?

  • Throughout Christopher’s journey, he met and befriended several people. How would you react if someone like Christopher appeared in your life out of nowhere? Would you welcome him? What questions would you ask him?

  • What do you think it would be like if Russell Baker and Christopher McCandless met at some point during each person’s journey? How would either person’s journey have changed if at all?

  • At times, Christopher doesn’t have a lot of available food. At times Russell doesn’t have a lot of food either. Can you think of a time you were really hungry? What did it feel like?

  • Do you ever wish your life was drastically different than it currently is? Why or why not? How far would you go to change it?

  • What influence does society/your peers have on how you live your life?

  • What are some societal things currently going on in our world that frustrate you?

  • Both Christopher and Russell meet people along the way which teach them many life lessons. Who is someone you randomly met that unexpectedly taught you something about life?

  • Christopher was very persistent with his goal of reaching Alaska. Have you ever had a goal everyone said you wouldn’t be able to accomplish? Did you accomplish it? How did it feel?

  • How would you compare and contrast the two very different but somewhat similar journeys both Christopher and Russell led?

Connection to the Core Commitments

  • These films were chosen because they all examine the dual themes of growing up and striving for excellence from a different perspective. Cinderella Man compares directly with the book in showing the experiences of a white family struggling to make it during the Great Depression. In contrast, The Color Purple shows us how life was different during that same time period for women and African Americans. Of Mice and Men tells the story of two men, one with a disability, in the Deep South during the Great Depression, and Avalon tells the story of a family of Jewish immigrants in Baltimore during the same time period. Lastly, Into the Wild, is set in the present day, but shows a very different perspective on growing up in which a teenager from a relatively privileged background relinquishes all material possessions and tries to reconnect with nature in order to “make something of himself”.

  • Taking Seriously the Perspective of Others

  • These films encourage students to contrast the varied perspectives of males and females, members of racial minorities and dominant groups, able-bodied persons and persons with disabilities, along with the poor and the privileged. Discussing themes of disability, class privilege, racial and ethnic relations, poverty and oppression encourages students to consider how one’s position in the social hierarchy might influence the lives of individuals.

  • Striving for Excellence

  • Russel Baker’s mother was always pushing him to “make something of himself”. What does it mean to make something of oneself? Though the characters in the book and films might answer that question differently, each is striving for a better, more fulfilling life. Each of these films depicts a struggle in which characters face various obstacles and emerge as stronger, more determined individuals. While their goals are different, each takes the high road and makes the most out of his or her circumstances. These five films encourage students to strive for excellence despite tough economic times, racism, sexism, or physical barriers they may encounter along the way.

  • Refining Ethical and Moral Reasoning

  • This program invites students to compare the ideas institutions, philosophies, moral codes, and ethical principles of the past to those they have experienced in the present day. This program creates an atmosphere in which students can reflect on their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and habits while comparing them to the characters in the book and films.

1 This guide is adapted from the discussion guide provided by Swank Motion Pictures Inc. for Residence Life Cinema.

© Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. MP4285 10.05 F# - (21178)

Residence Life Cinema 201 South Jefferson Avenue • St. Louis, Missouri 63103-2579

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