Band 5/6 Discovery :: Away + Into the Wild

“How do composers show us different perspectives of discovery through their texts?”

The texts of “Away” by Michael Gow and “Into the Wild” (2007) by Sean Penn explore the universal idea of discovery through the concept of retrospect and its link with time whereby our greatest discoveries are often too late.  However time is not the only avenue in which we can achieve greater knowledge but removing one from a monotonous lifestyle delivers the same cathartic experience where individuals are able to rediscover their world with new eyes. While both texts both explore the ideas of discovery, the play ‘Away’ focuses on how physical dislocations can lead to retrospective revelations which offer individuals the opportunity to change before it’s too late. Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” likewise explores the consequences of running ‘away’ to flee from reality. However through “Into the Wild” we discover that while going away and leaving the familiar can trigger growth and change within an individual and their surroundings, escapism can prove to be more detrimental than cathartic.

In Michael Gows text, “Away” we are introduced to the idea of greater self-discovery through overcoming life-defining obstacles. For the protagonist Tom, he struggles to accept his impending death conveyed through his attempts to keep it hidden from his parents “they want me to think I’m going to be as right as rain. They mustn’t find out”.  By overcoming this obstacle Tom is able to achieve self-discovery in realizing his role as the healer foreshadowed at the beginning on the play “give me your hands… Robin shall restore amends”. Ironically it is his impending death, “cancer of the blood”, which provides him with greater insight in recognizing the precious commodities of life. We are able to explore Tom’s therapeutic nature through his complicated relationship with Coral. The meta-play they put on, “Strangers by the Shore,” is an analogy of the healing of the soul. Coral’s transition from, “come with me… into the darkness” into the healing light of, “I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking” is indicative of Tom’s ability to bring other characters to a greater discovery. In such an act, he himself comes to understand the preciousness of his remaining time. Intertextually, this is acknowledged by his final scene with Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, revealing that he has ultimately experienced a greater self-growth, as he is able to “crawl unburdened towards death.” Tom’s overall transformation reminds us of the emphasis we place on time in teaching us our greatest lessons where we too must, “shake all care and business from our age, conferring them onto younger strengths,” in an attempt to reprioritize what really matters.

Similarly, “Into the Wild” is a film which likewise explores the great potentials that lie within discoveries from ‘going away’. Christopher McCandless is initially wounded by the careless materialism and the emotional apathy of his parents. Their materialistic nature is depicted through the use of flashbacks, specifically the scene of his parents kissing blissfully in their new Cadillac – symbolic of material success – which is cross cut with chaotic, cropped shots of domestic violence and abuse. The superficiality of his parents lives therefore drive Christopher to seek discovery away from the urban landscape of the city, and to “walk alone… into the wild.” This parallel to Away, draws upon the same inspirations of the play, in which the natural world becomes a setting of healing and transformative epiphanies. This restoration is depicted via the use of hyper saturated cinematography of landscapes, sunrises, and sunsets, shot across wide angle vistas to inspire the audience into a sense of awe and freedom. The use of iconic, slow motion shots of Christopher in the wilderness, across landscapes of forests, rivers, deserts and snow further emphasis the feeling of ‘into the wild’, and the sense of absolute liberation that heals the trauma of his unhappy, superficial family.

Both Away and Into the Wild deal with the consequences of making discoveries that significantly change the way we view the orthodox, normative lives we live.

Gwen is a character that echoes the superficial life lead by Christopher’s parents, in that she too is obsessed with materialism, “we’ve got a new caravan…everything you could want,” believing that material success brings happiness. However, through Tom’s impending mortality, Gwen comes to realize her callousness and deficiency in empathy and is forced to re-examine her priorities “what do you think of me? You must hate me…” This is evidenced in the use of the water motif inherent to the beach where each family has gone ‘away’, Corals request and Gwen’s new profound obedient nature, “Lets walk, Come on, down to the water. The water’s so warm,” symbolic of cleansing, of a cathartic wiping away of past sins and the readiness to ‘take risks’ and repair her familial relationship.

Conversely, Christopher also ‘goes away’ but his experience is captured in the retrospect examination of man whom deeply regretted his decision to isolation himself from civilization. The film is contextually captured from the diary of the real Christopher McCandless, who comes to the realization that “True happiness must be shared.” This is achieved through the interplay of time within the film, in which the responders become observers of Christopher’s last moments. It is revealed at the end of the film through the empathetic non-diegetic music and the flashbacks of all the connections that he had made through his journey, the regrets of his final moments of how he forsook all the opportunities of companionship and true happiness that he so truly desired. This is further heightened through the extreme close-up of Christopher’s full name followed by a flashback where he is running into his parent’s arms representing his greatest regret of leaving his family, his name and who he truly was.

Discovery is fundamentally shaped through numerous perspectives. Family is an inherent need and thus conflict will only lead to precarious outcomes to one’s character resulting in change and ultimately nostalgia.  Furthermore, overcoming an obstacle within ones way of life can lead to greater discovery shown through Tom’s insecurity and his final acceptance to his impending death.  Through the study of ‘Away’ and ‘Into the Wild’, it can be surmised that discovery can be shown in different perspectives.

Angus Law


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