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Patrick Toth

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Professor Emre English 106 29 March 2011 Two Movies: Harsh Suicide or Pleasant Death? Death, to its entirety, is an idea/action that causes fear, anxiety, and limitation in one’s life. It does not control the experiences in someone’s life, but rather puts a boundary on life, or guides it on certain paths. But, in a different aspect, does the thought of death, instead, push us in a direction that results in finding the true meaning of life, peace, and above all, the dreams one wants to achieve? Or is death nothing but a simple stage in the evolution of one’s soul? This discussion is brought up in many conversations, studies, and real life experiences. Personally, after almost dying in a car accident on the way to Michigan, provides me with a valid reason to reach out and grab my dreams and live as if death was my encouragement. It can be a controversy between people but to others just a simple event and an unimportant part of their lives as if it doesn’t affect them. The second perspective can be found in two movies, even though death still was present and, in fact, occurred in both cases. The two movies that I am referring to happen to be the, “Grizzly Man” directed by Werner Herzog and “Into the Wild” directed by Jon Krakauer. The first movie, in all reality, is actually a documentary. This documentary was filmed with one actor, Timothy Treadwell, who had been on a mission to travel to the lonely land of Alaska where grizzly bears resided. He was, in a perspective, a professional bear protector. He lived with them and in their environment for nearly 13 full summers. He was studying their habitat, the families, and their


Toth 2 daily occurrences. His purpose was to protect the bears and display a better understanding of them to the people who soon would see his documentary. He was comforted by his choices and the life with the bears. Unfortunately he was killed by a rogue bear, which in turn, caused this film to become well known. This is what Treadwell truly wanted. He wanted everyone to see his true love for the bears and that he was blessed to be out in Alaska. In the second film, directed by Jon Krakauer, the main character, Chris McCandless, acted in a similar way that Treadwell did. He is heading off to college with a wonderful future in sight and realizes that the life he anticipated was not the one he would enjoy living. He then became Alexander Supertramp and journeyed across the United States to find the value and meaning of his life. With the support of a few friends along the trip he was able to arrive in his domain in which he would live during summers and winters. Sadly, after years of no communication with his friends/family, he died of poisonous seeds and starvation. In the end, it was a very peaceful death because at that moment of death, McCandless realized what life genuinely meant. During both movies, “Grizzly Man” and “Into the Wild,” the protagonists are demonstrated by forcing themselves into complete isolation in order to meet and accomplish their desires, which in turn, allows them to live away from the materialistic life. However, do the two movies exemplify this “unaccompanied mission” in an unethical and less meaningful manner, seeing as how they both died in a way that questions suicide, or do they represent it as a true and meaningful understanding of life and one’s belief, which proves both characters to be content with the thought of death?


Toth 3 Each one of the movies can easily be evaluated in a way that explicitly answers the above question by using simple criteria. At first, when one watches both of these movies, it is noticed that the majority of the movie/documentary is shot solely of the one and only character. It happens to be this way because both of the settings occur in very remote places where interaction between humans is limited and confined. This brings up the first point. Fortunately, this idea was presented and seen in both movies. In the first one, “Grizzly Man,” Timothy Treadwell chooses to travel to Alaska with the purpose of being isolated from all civilization. He had planned on “living” with the bears. Treadwell, according to his parents, had grown up as an athlete, a smart boy, and an attractive young man. This quickly changed after he had some struggles with drinking and other problems. He then had gone into a phase, which lasted the rest of his life, which was about loving nature. While being raised, Treadwell had always loved animals and interactions with them (Herzog). Therefore, this only makes sense that he left to Alaska to be with his favorite animal, the bear. He believed that his life was more meaningful outside of the populated atmosphere, in isolation. In his view, he belonged with the bears and not in the materialistic world, which we’ll see is also true for the other movie, “Into the Wild.” Timothy had spent 12 years over in Alaska living with the bears, almost to the point of becoming (pretending to be) a bear. In my opinion, if he was there to study the bears in order to provide a better understanding of them to kids and other recipients, he stayed there way too long. Three to four years should have been sufficient enough. This is why I concluded that he no longer was there studying the bears but truly becoming a part of their habitat and their families in some way. This proves Treadwell’s passion for bears and even his love for bears. His love implied to the audience that he was satisfied with his life there, even when death approached him. He wanted to


Toth 4 be there more than anywhere else. One might ask though, “Was he asking for death since he was living with one of the most deadly creatures alive?” In response to that, he was not asking for death at all. Even though many sources would disagree, my belief is that he was okay and content with the thought of death, but never in his documentary, or in any interviews, did he ask for death or mention that he wanted to die there. Timothy Treadwell was simply following his mission and desire to be out in the woods with the bears on his own terms and actions. A similar case appears in the second movie, “Into the Wild.” The essential character, Chris McCandless (better known as Alexander Supertramp), grew up in a similar situation. He was a very bright young man and was heading off to Harvard, hopefully into a successful career. His parents were thrilled, but were offering him too many “gifts.” Like Treadwell, McCandless did not appreciate and did not enjoy all of the materialistic items. His next steps were to head out and live in the wild; more specifically, hitchhike across the U.S. in order to get to Alaska and survive winters and summers there. He was strongly against the idea of a “money-bought” life. His decisions came quick and almost as a reaction than a thought-out process. After leaving his car, burning his cash, and cutting up his credit cards and his personal ID, he became no one who had nothing. He had legitimately left all civilization and became alone in the wild all over the country. A relevant quote was brought to my attention which has a meaning that is clearly evident in McCandless’s views. A quote from Epicurus, a Greek philosopher, informs us that it’s possible to be in a state of security against some ills. However, when death arrives in the topic, we step into a world that has no bound, nor limitations (Cook). I concur that this philosophical reasoning was what McCandless had used. He stepped away from the secure, less meaningful life and ventured out to find what really mattered to him knowing that he was free. Again, he is


Toth 5 not stepping into death’s trap, nor is he expecting death. All he expected was a life that was powerful and worth living in his eyes…the right life. His isolation could lead to some discrepancies and questioning of his departure from the real world. The average person most likely thinks that McCandless lost sight of his real life, his family, and his future. However, that accusation is only an opinion from one person. I understand that most of us believe that he did lose sight, but in his eyes, his sight of the world was the one he was living, out in the deserts and forests of our nation; hence the reason why Supertramp was not suicidal but more of a nomad, finding the meaning of life. In both situations, Treadwell and McCandless did not request death to appear in their lives. They both resorted to the lonely life; the life that each one wanted in order to fulfill their missions/desires. After addressing the first point that clearly explains and supports the topic being discussed, we move on to the next criterion that is only going to be used for the first movie. Faith and faith in one’s religion is what became successful for Tim, giving us the second point. The reason this point is only relevant for “Grizzly Man” is because Tim based most his actions on faith and his belief and his religion directly. Alexander, no matter how faithful he was, did not show, specifically, in the movie that he was looking to G-d for help and looking to Him to find meaning/answers. During “Grizzly Man,” Timothy Treadwell quite often mentioned how he would want to die on the same land as the bears and even said specifically, “I would die for them.” He wanted to continue to be with the bears, so what better way could that be achieved than to die with the bears in their habitat? This makes me question his views on faith.


Toth 6 Assuming he meant what he said, realizing how it came across to the viewers, Treadwell then gives us the idea that he believes in an afterlife, whether it be Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, etc. One who believes in an afterlife to the fullest knows that death is nothing but a mere stage, or transition, in life. It is explained in the book, Death by Todd May, that the concept of death has four components. The first is that death ends all experiences. The second is that death and its action is not an accomplishment, nor is it a completion to one’s life. The third is that death is inevitable and unpredictable, which leaves us one more. The last one is that with all of the three previous theories given by death, we are forced to question the meaning of our lives (May 22). In this movie, the audience and even the narrator question the meaning of Treadwell’s life (before the documentary was published) primarily because of the reasons given from the book. In my opinion and in Timothy’s support, his life had meaning, as does every life on this planet. He followed the belief that one should not fret or worry about death if one believes in an afterlife. Yes, death does, in a sense, put a boundary on one’s life, but this is the first life. In Treadwell’s case, I think he was either in the faith of Christianity or Buddhism and therefore, had no reason to worry about death because he knew where he was going to be after death had taken him. One could argue that even if he believed in an afterlife, G-d would not want him living with the bears nor staying there that long because it almost seems like it was suicide, once again. This is a valid point; however, G-d would not be disappointed in any of his actions. Also, Treadwell follows the idea that the thought of death, and the sight of death, actually pushes him to succeed in his mission. He knows that he will be eternally happy after death, so he stays out in the wilderness striving to make his point heard, protect the bears, and do what he feels like needs to be done, knowing that death is lurking around the corner. Timothy’s faith in his religion, whether


Toth 7 it is Buddhism or Christianity is hard to tell, is the reason that supports the movie’s way of presenting an ethical and effective portrayal of Timothy, which agrees with the idea of accepting death. Although Alexander Supertramp did not demonstrate a strong sense of faith during the movie, he did, on the other hand, have a huge thrill for adventure and new experiences which completely changed his life. Most people in the story stated that this was a ridiculous thought and was absurd. No one would even imagine partaking in all of the activities that Supertramp did, only to make a point proving that there’s more to life than money. The next point that supports my claim arises from what has just been explained. Alexander’s view on life, no matter how drastic it had become, was true and meaningful and full of adventure, which happened to be exactly what both movies wanted to show in their protagonists. The “life-changing moment” was introduced right after he had graduated. From this point on he left with no physical goal in mind, but to conquer what was laid out in front of him. Observed from the movie, Supertramp left his car, money, and even his identification in the past…the past that was, in his mind, not worth living. He traveled across our nation, surviving and finding comfort out of the scarce food he had and salvaging what he could from his few interactions with soon-to-be close friends. As a side note, I am challenged to recall a story from an article that is similar to Alexander’s novel. About 500 to 600 years AD, a group of Irish monks, called papar, had set out on a voyage of their own. This journey was a much more treacherous one than McCandless’s. They, as well, had no goal of wealth or power, but more a lonely destination. This sounds very


Toth 8 dismal, but they traveled across oceans to see what was on the other side because they were looking, like Alex, for an isolated location that they were able to reside in peace and be away from all the temptations of the world (Krakauer “Outside”). It was a bit difficult to agree with that statement until I had gone on a trip of my own. The only difference was that I kept my money and identification. I had flown to Phoenix, Arizona to spend time with friends and family, as most people would on breaks. While I was enjoying the magnificent quality time with them, I noticed one very special thing about my visit that made me realize where Supertramp was getting his “nonsense” from. We live on such a beautiful planet and we hardly recognize it. Waking up to a frigid morning, eating cereal in a cup, which had been the primary food source for the past three days, and watching the sun rise of the south rim of the Grand Canyon was probably the most spectacular and absolutely beautiful moment of my life. My point from all of this is that, most of the time, the best things in life are found through natural ways, such as: breathtaking views, thrill seeking adventures, and the tranquil environment that surrounds you. I inferred that McCandless was simply finding that true beauty and adrenaline-pumping part of his life. He had no destination but rather a hunger for new findings and happiness. Alex had a very philosophical take on things, and even though death was never brought up, I am certain that he conceived that the life lived by his parents was the only way death could find him. As May suggests in his book, death is inevitable (22). This makes his theory a bit unreal; however, in my opinion, that high-class life was going to kill him. Even if the life, living as a nomad in the U.S., killed him (which eventually occurred), he would be content with it and accept it because being out in the wild was essentially the place that he believed to be heaven in this life. The very last scene explains all of my reasoning for why Alexander was not suicidal,


Toth 9 but actually a firm believer of a sense of peace and well-being that faced death to the fullest. The last shot of the movie exhibits him lying down on his “made-from-scratch” bed looking up at the clear blue sky with such a happy emotion on his face. At this moment, his whole life, and his entire view of his life and how it should be lived, was expressed to the audience. The simple smile and the calm skies show us that he WANTED to be out in the wilderness and that he had made his life worth something. Alexander Supertramp, in a short conclusion, succeeded in his journey, to find peace and serenity in his life, in a very effective and slightly ethical way that almost defied death itself and its actual meaning. After evaluating these two movies along two points, we are left with one more issue, which happens to be probably the most important. This point involves the meaning of both characters’ lives. However, this isn’t about what Tim and Alex thought their lives meant but in fact what their lives meant to others after the death of both. The success of this point primarily came from the producers and directors of the movie and the documentary. Timothy’s life during “Grizzly Man” was not much thought of. People did not like his actions, nor agreed with his beliefs; therefore, most of the audience, before the documentary was published, was not thrilled with Timothy Treadwell. Society believed Treadwell to be childish and thought it was wrong. In Brink’s article, she mentions that Tim had given up on the middleclass professionalism and success and headed out “to become a child again” among the bears (308). However, the tables turned drastically after finding out he had passed and a documentary and had been published. After his death, years went on before this documentary had been published, and much thought went into to the making of it. “Grizzly Man” was released and


Toth 10 spread like wildfire. The reason for the popularity was because the audience could now actually see the adversity, the passion, and the adventure shown in Timothy Treadwell. Aside from all of the filming and documentation of the movie, Timothy’s death was a sad death to many. It was not so much tragic, but more of a death of a person that will be truly missed. Shown in the film, were friends and family and even short acquaintances that were shocked to hear about his death. They were puzzled about the thought of life without their friend, Timothy Treadwell. Tim’s goal was to live out there for years in order to study and adapt to the bears and their environment. The purpose of this was to be able to go back to society and clearly explain the beauty of the bears and the habitat. He also wanted to teach kids more than what they knew about grizzly bears. The publishing of this documentary allowed all of his views and studies to be seen to more than the kids’ eyes, but to ALL of the public. Timothy wanted this. He did not necessarily want death, but he wanted everything he had experienced to be seen as live footage, even if death was the only way to make that happen. This brings me to an editorial decision that was used by Herzog to support that claim. All of the footage was of Timothy’s positive and meaningful interactions, with a bit of humor and stressful hardships that would please the audience. When he was contemplating whether or not to release the audio of Tim’s death, he made a wise decision. Getting rid of that audio was a brilliant idea, because now his trips to Alaska don’t seem pointless. His journey seems to be successful, and permitting the audio to be heard would only question Tim’s purpose and give the audience a reason to dislike his ways even more. In that sense, Timothy Treadwell did, in fact, absolutely accomplish his mission that has been discussed throughout this entire paper.


Toth 11 The next situation involves Alexander Supertramp and the meaning of his life to others after his death. Unlike Timothy Treadwell, who frequently returned to the human civilization to teach kids, share stories, etc., McCandless never returned to his family or friends. He didn’t even write letters back to anyone. In an interview with Jon Krakauer, Jon mentions that McCandless purposely avoided the contact from the outside in order to rid himself of the “false spiritual being within” and to head out on his great trek that would soon transform him (Krakauer “Charlie Rose”). This makes it almost difficult to imagine how his life was to others after his peaceful death. The director also came through with his editorial decisions in “Into the Wild.” During this movie, the director shows Alex’s relationships with everyone, on a very deep and strong level. The reason for this was to demonstrate how much Supertramp affected everyone. Supertramp embedded happiness and insight into everyone. The list is too long to even begin describing the impact he had on his relationships. The gentleman, who, at first, thought Alexander to be insane, is a perfect example. Later on, this man almost became Supertramp’s new father. It was so real that when Alex left him, this gentleman was crying. Relationships like this one, the one with the teenage girl and the hippies proved his love for people to the point of even making the viewer (me in this case) become emotionally attached. With this all said, the director meant for this to happen so that in the end, his death would become more of a tragic, and missed, death. A scene is brought to my attention above all others. Not knowing that Alex is even dead, Supertramp’s father is filmed in the middle of a road on his hands and knees sincerely crying out his pain. He now understood what his son was wanting, or not wanting in this case…the materialistic life. The family realizes the mistake they’ve made by this point, but


Toth 12 unfortunately, it was too late. The director shot all of these memories and reflections in the moments of McCandless’s death in order to grasp the attention and the understanding of the audience that Supertramp’s “mission” was indeed a success, as was Treadwell’s. The departure for true life had ended, but the life he wanted to share moved on, in the hearts and souls of everyone that was touched by Alexander McCandless. In conclusion, after explicitly evaluating the two movies, “Grizzly Man” and “Into the Wild”, one can say that they both portrayed the characteristics of Timothy Treadwell and Alexander McCandless very effectively. No matter how controversial their acts could be, they were done in an ethical manner and in a way that supports the idea that both protagonists were content with death. This resolves the problem and answers the questions of suicide. The movies easily displayed one’s goal for true life and finding the beauty of this world, which simply results in a most pleasant death.

Two Movies; Harsh Suicide or Pleasant Death?  

My comparison/evaluation essay