Sean Penn has molded one of the best movies of a bustling fall out of Jon Krakauer's best-selling Into the Wild. Krakauer told the true story of Chris McCandless, an honors grad from Emory University who walked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 to find himself outside the confines of estranged family, well-meaning friends and any governing impulse besides his own questing heart. If you read the book and pegged Chris as a wacko narcissist who died out of arrogance and stupidity, then Penn's film version is not for you. If, like Penn, you mourn Chris' tragedy and his judgment errors but also exult in his journey and its spirit of moral inquiry, then this beautiful, wrenching film will take a piece out of you.
Among other things, it is a beautiful meditation which juxtaposes the impulse for solitude with the human need for companionship. The conflict is one with which most of us can identify. Critic Roger Ebert captures it nicely:
For those who have read Thoreau's Walden, there comes a time, maybe only lasting a few hours or a day, when the notion of living alone in a tiny cabin beside a pond and planting some beans seems strangely seductive.
For the Jew, character Alexander Supertramp (nee real life person Chris McCandless) resolves the apparent conflict as he concludes “Happiness is real only when shared.” Our rabbinic teachers came to a similar conclusion, Al tifrosh min hatzibur – do not separate yourself from the community. Whether with simcha (joy) or tsuris (sadness/problems), the community provides us with the means to heighten the joy or handle the adversity.
The communal impulse that Alexander Supertramp discovered, Congregation Or Ami enshrines: Happiness is real only when shared. Our (new, yet still in process) vision statement begins: At Or Ami people matter… We recognize the need and purpose of community. Our core values capture this impulse for companionship. We list among them:
- Joy/Simcha: We celebrate life through word and song because we believe that life is filled with blessing.
- Caring Community/Henaynu (we are here): We endeavor to be there for people through their joyous moments and their sad times.
Enough. Into the Wild is a great movie. Go see it.