In the 2007's movie Into The Wild, Chris abandons society and starts living in a forest. In the end when he is dying his last words are "Happiness is only real when shared"

So was it a mistake to abandon society? Was it all wrong to travel all the way to Alaska and live a solitary life?

What is the moral of the story?

  • 2
    Don't need to watch the movie to know the answer to this question.
    – Reactgular
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 20:57

8 Answers 8


I would say the focus of the ending of the movie should not be on Is it a mistake of the society or is it wrong to live a solitary life,rather on the fact what he actually said when dying i.e. "Happiness is only real, when shared". By this quote he meant, if you want to find happiness in life, you can't enjoy it alone. Share it with your friends and family and it would be returned multiplied. In fact when he understood he is in grave dengar, he tried to leave the place but he could not as the river became wide and deep. However he also spoke that he was not sorry for all he had done.

The quotation he had written in the bus also should be considered for understanding what was going on in his head then.

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However according to the author, Jon Krakauer, the last thing that Chris wrote was I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL! (Krakauer, pg199). What Chris learned is a difficult question given the cryptic nature of his writing and the fate that he suffered. The author also tells us that Chris highlighted the following paragraph from the book Dr Zhivago, perhaps illustrating what he learned: "And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness in not happiness...And this was most vexing of all." Chris added the note "HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED." (Krakauer pg 189) He had spent much of his young life seeking solitary struggle against nature and "truth" and he may have discovered that he needed to share his knowledge with others in order to find real happiness. (Reference)

So moral of the story was not that adventure is not good, but at the end of the day you must return to home to share it with others and understand true meaning of happiness!


(Caveat: no disrespect intended to the man or his family. All information below is personal opinion, and mostly about the artistic decisions of the movie makers.)

You wrote:

Q: “In the end when he is dying his last words are ‘Happiness is only real when shared.’"

Not quite. He wrote that into some book (with “Moscow” and various Russian names in the book’s text), and then had a huge crying emotional epiphany as he looked up to the sky; as if those words were the answer to it all; as if through those words he had finally solved the mystery that was crippling him. So there’s that. But those were not his last words. In voice-over we then hear him say, To call each thing by its right name. while the camera shows his alias carved in wood, “Alexander Supertramp”. Then the voice-over continues with a repeat, ..by its right name. cutting to his handwritten card in the window (“I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”), but then slowly zooming in to close-up of how he printed his real name, “Christopher Johnson McCandless.” So in his last moments he became himself again – or was healed – a kind of secular: redemption/salvation/atonement/deliverance – however you want to think about that moment from a secular point of view.

Then they intercut between his last-gasp death mask face and an idyllic past where he’s hugging his family in a meadow run; with his actual last words being - the last words of the movie that is - What if I were smiling; and running into your arms. Would you see then what I see now?

Those were his last words. He was smiling and looking up to the sunny cloud-filled sky in both his idyllic memory of a family huggy shot, and ALSO in his sanctified death mask shot; laying down in the bus looking upwards out the window into the Alaskan sky. He was happy to finally die. Just like he imagined making his family happy by running into their arms. He was finally able to be happy; to leave his tormented life behind. To my mind the ending was not played as an individual’s tragedy; it was played as a glorification of a lost individual’s soul - ..a martyred hippie.

Q: “So was it a mistake to abandon society?”

Generally, sure it’s a mistake for someone to abandon society – and he had the great epiphany about that – but it wasn’t a “mistake” that he made – the tragedy of the story was that he didn’t have a choice. He was not able to cope with what modern life had in store for him (whether it was evolution or environment), but there was no “mistake” about it – it was methodical, planned, and consistent. Earlier, he looked out the restaurant window and wanted to be like normal happy people he saw, but just could not be that. He had to follow his own doomed path. It was not a “mistake” for him – it was his destiny.

Q: ”Was it all wrong to travel all the way to Alaska and live a solitary life?”

This is one of those unusual movies that has a huge gap between what I think of it and what most of my close friends think. (They loved it, I hated it.) They seem to feel something happened to him, he got caught behind the river (“..that poor boy”), and what he was doing by communing with nature was some kind of noble heroic journey; like an American Indian ‘vision quest’ or something. In short, they have deep sympathy. I don’t. I read the book, I still don’t.

So, to my friends, it was NOT “all wrong”. It was part of an individual’s natural exploration (albeit extreme) of himself and the world. To me, it was far beyond “all wrong”. It was idiotic and disgusting – not a redeeming damn thing about it. As a highly advantaged and intelligent young man; and who was a poetic, self-sufficient, and beautiful young man - if you will, an abstraction of, “the best that our society produces.” THAT is the tragedy if there is one – that the greatest and best of what we can produce as young men in our society could willfully dive into an empty pool that is outback Alaska in winter.

So to me the tragedy is not about the poor boy who got trapped, or even the stupidity of an individual or his tragic doomed destiny that he had no choice but to complete – it’s about the tragedy of a culture that can somehow produce untold numbers of people that are completely disassociated with our modern society – they want no part of it. They go to movies and like movies that glorify people who want no part of it.

Q: “What is the moral of the story?”

That hippies still hate yuppies? That children still rebel and can’t stand their conservative parents, or even the world we live in? Blah-blah-blah.


The movie is based on the real life story of Christopher McCandless with the little exception of death by toxic substance because there is no toxic substance found in McCandless's body.

On the other hand, The moral of the story is itself in the sentence "Happiness is only real when shared". It's not against living solitary life or life in a nature is bad. But to say that leaving your loved one behind you to find happiness is worth of nothing or you can say you can't enjoy your happiness alone (It's human nature).


Was it a mistake to abandon society? ...and live a solitary life?

No, I do not think so. Every individual needs at least one moment or period in life to become aware. To explore who you are and what you want. People find this in adolescence, many find it later, some find it never. The search is bound by a journey into whatever. Into partying, into writing, into performing, buying, rebellion, drugs, travelling, and so on. Mostly, the individual undertaking the journey never realizes doing so, never realizes it most certainly will have a destination and an end date, and will lead to insights that result in a (completely) other direction.

I tend to think that none of these journeys are mistakes: they define. Sure, some are rather poorly chosen and could even lead to destruction (and in that extrapolating perspective, Chris' choices could have been much worse for him), but all being part of a necessary learning path. It is my personal feeling that having learned something could all be undone by labelling it a mistake.

Assume the river was still shallow: once returned to friends and family, would Chris himself have called his journey a mistake?

What is the moral of the story?

The story is a biographical tragedy: we witness Chris finding himself and he has bad luck in the end.

Solitude deemed not to be the joy Chris was looking for, and the moral he wants to convey is to meet and share to be able to be happy.


What is the moral of the story?

I find it significant that everyone who reads the book or watches the movie has a hard time agreeing with anyone else on the most important lesson of the story. Perhaps the lasting message of Christopher J. McCandless is the importance of questioning what the purpose and best uses of life are. Undoubtedly the "correct" answer is different for each of us.

Note that the people Chris is most drawn to (Jan & Rainey and Ron Franz) have lost contact with their children and suffer from the loss. Those people significantly ask Chris "do your parents know where you are?" to which he responds in a way suggesting he doesn't think it important—typical of abused children.

Twenty years later, people are still divided about the fundamental question: Was he a visionary, or just behaving stupidly. For example, one Denali National Park ranger (who arrived in Alaska at the same time and at the same age) writes:

So what made the difference between McCandless and I fourteen years ago? Why am I alive and he is dead? Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide while I apprenticed myself to a career and a life that I wanted more badly than I can possibly describe in so short an essay. In the end I believe that the difference between us was that I wanted to live and Chris McCandless wanted to die (whether he realized it or not). The fact that he died in a compelling way doesn’t change that outcome. He might have made it work if he had respected the wilderness he was purported to have loved. But it is my belief that surviving in the wilderness is not what he had in mind.

On the other hand, hundreds of people visit the Magic Bus site, most of them young males from good backgrounds. One of them wrote:

He followed his dream and those who call him stupid or foolish are scared to follow their dreams and don't have the guts to recognize his brilliance and sadly something went [wrong]. But I think it was wrong for a book and movie to be made about him: all he wanted to do was get away from everything.

As for the question What is the moral of the story?, the answer is We will never know.


Q: “What is the moral of the story?”

From the reviews above, I can conclude that the lesson of the story is indeed subjective. It depends on your own perspective, on how you make of the things present in the story.

As for me, I think the lesson is 'to follow your dream and enjoy the journey'. Because by doing so, you'll encounter people who'll help you, people you can inspire, people who are kind to you and people who are opposite of everything mentioned. But when you're still on the road, you tend to not recognize these people 'cause you're too focused on your dream.

And I think that was what he learned, hence the quote "Happiness is only real when shared". In his last moments, he realized that he was most happy when he was on his way to Alaska. When he was on the journey and met different kinds of people. He was happy at first to have arrived at his destination but that was just that, at first. That happiness was short-lived, because success is nothing without having anybody to celebrate it with.

That was what he learned and he did not regret anything. Because he wouldn't have realized the meaning of happiness if he did things differently. So, it's safe to say that his decision to abandon society was a mistake because he had learned something from it. But it can't be considered wrong because it was his dream. That's his belief and I admire his courage to have fulfilled that.

The tragedy of the story can be linked to life itself. 'Cause even if we're gone, life goes on (that was depicted in the movie when the current errands of the people he met along the way were shown). But still he's happy because the world will know his story (that was why he'd been writing everything in the first place, and he even took a picture of himself). He's happy(the real happiness) because he will be able to 'share' what he learned with others. That was also the reason why he wore a smile when he was dying.

That was really his time. He had fulfilled his 'mission' on earth. It wasn't coincidence that they found his body 2 weeks after. Why couldn't they have found him earlier, when he was still alive but already weak? If they had, they could have saved him and prevented his death. But why didn't that happen? We can only imagine. The universe has its ways.


To me, the final quote meant that if he goes back to his old life, people (like his parents, because he said "if I were smiling and running into your arms?" and we saw him running to his parents) they couldn't understand the meaning of : Happiness is only real when shared, because they didn't go through what he lived, and met incredible people like Supertramp did.

So, I think he doesn't regret his journey, except the ending (his death).


When I first read the story I had just finished school and was off traveling, with the strange but unmistakeable similar desire as Chris to head into the wild. For me it was the amazon jungle, upon mentioning this during my first stages of traveling someone thought I ought to read this story, which I did and actually yes it influenced me enough to reconsider my trip, and so for me the phrase used in the ending of the movie is a little Hollywood as I feel the journey was unfinished, Chris's struggle to me is a struggle between life and society, life simply telling us through emotion that we are meant to be together and not solitary, but modern day society is (in my opinion) overwhelmingly unnatural at least for some people pushing us further and further into escapism. Or into the wild.

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