Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 22

As it could be expected, McCandless’ death in the film is presented as the result of a minimal error, along the lines of Krakauer’s theory, resulting of the confusion between two very similar plants, wild potato and wild sweet pee – incidentally both quite harmless – turning the protagonist into a true tragic hero, victim of his own fatal but inevitable mistake, which is better than presenting a starving and disoriented young man who ingested vast quantities of toxic mushrooms on an empty stomach.   Besides re-administering reality, the script of Into the Wild also creates fictitious encounters and situations, demonstrating yet again that the true events surrounding the life and death of Christopher McCandless are not enough by themselves to establish sufficient narrative authority and must be complemented by imaginary anecdotes, just as Krakauer’s account had to be complemented with other fearless feats, including his own. Whether Emile Hirsh, who plays McCandless in the film, is decidedly more handsome than his model, or whether the scenes in the Alaskan wilderness were shot 50 miles South of where the actual magic bus” is located are not exactly surprising observations: as pointed out by Debord, the society of spectacle implies a falsification of reality, which is transformed through the spectacle in order to comply with capitalistic imperatives – that Hollywood transforms the truth to sell it better is hardly a new discovery. However, the McCandless phenomenon shows how the physical mechanisms of spectacle can properly eliminate the original model, henceforth turning the falsified copy into the only available truth – literally substituting reality with a product. During the making of his documentary, Ron Lamothe attempted to interview several inhabitants from Carthage, the little town in South Dakota where McCandless spent a few weeks over a couple of stays before heading to Alaska, and discovered that they were not legally allowed to speak to him for they had sold the exclusive rights to their life stories to the film production company: the making of the film Into the Wild implied therefore not only the actual purchasing of witnesses but their silencing as well. According to Lamothe, these rights are owned by the production company “in perpetuity,” which implies that the only true witnesses to McCandless’ story have been efficiently and forever eliminated, allowing for the merchandised construction to replace reality.    More than ever, and following Debord’s observations, the spectacle not only separates us from reality, it also eliminates any possibility of the real by substituting it. It is significant that the inhabitants of Carthage did not obtain any direct financial retribution for signing away the rights to their life story; their main motivation was to put Carthage, South Dakota, “on the map,” that is to situate it within the society of spectacle – whether their own 22