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“You think you have to want more than you need. Until you have it all you won’t be free. Society, you’re a crazy breed. I hope you’re not lonely without me…”

 Çağıl Günalp – cakilgunalp@gmail.com

Into the Wild is being considered as one of the famous movies of eminent American actor and director, Sean Penn. The remarkable movie, which was adopted from Jon Krakauer’s book, can be admitted as such a masterpiece due to its narration, soundtracks of Eddie Vedder, cinematography and performance of headliners; Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Keener… At first glance, Into the Wild could be considered as an “ordinary story” of adventurous young man named Christopher McCandless… But the philosophy of the story goes beyond that. Questioning the role of family, civilization, society, education on happiness is disguised as dialogue, soundtracks and sequences… Not to mention, capitalism and today’s liberal education system are also criticized in the movie. The masterpiece of Sean Penn, Into the Wild, can also be evaluated in the framework of existential philosophy…

In the movie, the leading actor Emile Hirsch plays the role of Christopher McCandless, who is a young man just graduated from Emory University. After his graduation, McCandless grants all of his money to charities and starts out a journey. This journey resembles the Odysseia of Homeros which is a journey back to home… If we explain McCandless’s Odysseia in the light of existentialism, it is a journey of defining and creating one’s own essence… In this sense, McCandless’s voyage corresponds to exploring home and home is corresponding to Mother Nature… What Mc Candless sought was nomadic life style and during his Odysseia he had dared to know, explore and create an “endlessly changing horizon”. He cuts all his bonds with civilization, an became ascetic young man and pursued solitude to discover his own self.

As I have stated above, Christopher McCandless abandoned conformity, “sacrificed” his material possession and pursued an isolated new life. What McCandless attempted could only be grasped in the light of an undeniable bond between freedom and solitude. In order to figure it out more comprehensively, it might be beneficial to contemplate on Henry David Thoreou’s passage, from his masterpiece, Walden:  “I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… to put to rout all that was not life: and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

As it has been underlined often by existentialist philosophers, what people control entirely is his/her own mind. Under all circumstances a person is always able and free to question, to judge, to accept, to refuse to think. As Jean-Paul Sartre highlighted before, “Existence precedes essence… Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards”. In that respect, it can be tremendously asserted that in the middle of wild life, McCandless was freed from chains of civilization… He was free to choose and he endeavoured to embrace nature instead of being poisoned by the norms of modern life… As McCandless underlined, “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.”

To rephrase all mentioned above, McCandless was fairly convinced that real meaning of happiness cannot be achieved through material possessions… He does believe that being so conformist and materialistic is the inevitable result of the civilized world. In this context, Into the Wild’s argument is crystal clear: According to the movie, in order to achieve freedom, people should be segregated from both society and their own material possessions. Otherwise people are chained by selfish interests and materialistic world…

Just like Into the Wild, Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (The Hunter), a Soviet-Japanese co-production film, also seeks to criticize negativities of civilization. In a general sense, Kurosawa’s epic movie Dersu Uzala is the story of a nomadic hunter Dersu and a Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev. Movie sets in untouched wilderness of Sikhote-Alin region of the Russian Far East. In order to question the philosophy of the movie, it may be beneficial to mention the priorities, principles, tendencies and perception of a person in “state of nature”. Dersu Uzala as a person in the “state of nature” is isolated from other people, money, consumption culture, civilization and puissance. Survival can be accepted as the only objective of a person in the “state of nature”… A person isolated from the civilization does not seek to dominate nature. On contrary this kind of person always considers himself as a part of nature. A person, who is far away from civilization, is not sunk into hierarchy. In the middle of the untouched nature, such a person is in the same condition with all other species and he is obligated to respect the natural cycle and the others’ rights. One of the most important philosophers of the history, Jean Jacques Rousseau, in his book Emile, emphasized the tendencies of a person in the “state of nature”. According to Rousseau, person in the “state of nature” is self-sufficient and tends to good.

Moreover, as it was indicated in the article, entitled ‘The Necessity of Freedom’, “Rousseau addresses freedom more than any other problem of political philosophy and aims to explain how man in the state of nature is blessed with an enviable total freedom. This freedom is total for two reasons. First, natural man is physically free because he is not constrained by a repressive state apparatus or dominated by his fellow men. Second, he is psychologically and spiritually free because he is not enslaved to any of the artificial needs that characterize modern society. This second sense of freedom, the freedom from need, makes up a particularly insightful and revolutionary component of Rousseau’s philosophy. Rousseau believed modern man’s enslavement to his own needs was responsible for all sorts of societal ills, from exploitation and domination of others to poor self-esteem and depression”

In order to grasp tendencies and priorities of today’s ‘modern’ people in the New World Order it might be beneficial to state: Civilized people consider competence as an obligation for being eminent. Today’s modern person tends to compete with everyone at everywhere. Most of those can sacrifice honour and every ethical code to earn more money, to build a career. Those, who are obsessed to compete under all circumstances are not concerned with consequences of their competition. They act in pursuance of their selfish interests and every vice can be justified… They act according to the motto of Italian political philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli:  “the end justifies the means”

In order to grasp my claim more profoundly it is worth to quote an American film critic, historian and theorist Stephen Princ’s evaluation regarding the priorities and character of Dersu as a person in “state of nature”: “Dersu’s magnanimity is nourished by his perception of the essential spirituality of nature. He talks to the fire and to wind and water as if they were people. A soldier laughs and asks him why, and Dersu replies because they are alive. Angry fire, water, and wind are frightening, he says. They are powerful men. A strong breeze suddenly appears, whipping leaves across the frame, as if in answer to his words. Earlier, in a magnificent image, Dersu and Arseniev stood on a vast plain, framed between the moon on their left and a fiery setting sun on their right, humans and celestial bodies alike flattened by the long lens into a single plane of space. It is an image of great mystery and serenity. As they contemplate the heavens, Dersu explains that the sun is the most important man because if he dies everything else dies, too. He initiates Arseniev into the secrets of the universe. The other Kurosawa heroes were in touch with important social and moral imperatives, but Dersu is connected to cosmic truths, and it is Arseniev’s blessing to have known him briefly.”

Both Christopher McCandless’s and Dersu Uzala’s main objective is same. Their passion was designed to survive, to hunt, to get warm and to take shelter. Like billions of people in the world, most of the people in Northern Cyprus are being melted and altered in the ‘system’. They are being chained due to unspoken and unwritten agreements and norms of society. In this system our identities are being divided, our priorities are being determined by others and inevitably most of us turning into modern slaves. It is fair to claim that most of us are sunk into “amnesia” and our hearts and minds are being paralyzed due to obeying rules of a corrupted community. This slavery pushes people constantly to running after something but never achieving it. Our days in this arid Island are becoming like a theatre stage and we are turning into Truman Burbank. Every single day we are being pushed to getting a bigger car, flashy dresses and newer phones… To survive in this corruption is getting painful for those who were segregated from this ‘culture’. And this illusion leads us to be trapped in the quotation of Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”


Society, Eddie Vedder

Walden, Henry David Thoreou