As I walk
Got my wish
To up and disappear
-“No Ceiling”, Eddie Vedder
Into the Wild’s (2007) soundtrack integrates all of the contours, nuances, and mysteries of the wild and tamed places and becomes a living moodboard of the American landscape. We can hear the winds sweeping across the canyons of Arizona, the forests whispering across the lakes of Alaska, and the restless yearning within ourselves, compelling us to chase further horizons. Distilling the spirit of a place- maintaining the integrity of the geography and the essence of the terrain- and condensing it into a soundtrack is a tall order. Eddie Vedder was up for the task and in his patently introspective and reflective way, he created a masterpiece of modern folk rock.
Into the Wild is based on the haunting true story of Chris McCandless as documented in Jon Krakauer’s seminal book of the same name. The film follows Chris as he abandons the pretensions of society to chart his own journey through the wild frontiers of the American West.
The music beckons us to confront not only the wildernesses of the world, but to encounter the wild corners and untamed biomes of our own mind and spirit. Lyrics like those from “Guaranteed” – “Wind in my hair I feel part of everywhere / Underneath my being is a road that disappeared” - cast us all as sojourners, explorers of uncharted territories. The authoritative complexity behind Vedder’s words reconciles the discordant elements within us, allowing us to access new modes of being and new modes of seeing the world.
There is a heartsick tenor to Vedder’s words; a diffuse mood of longing. There is an atmosphere of contemplation and quiet reflection that sees even the uplifting songs tinged in sepia tone. The carefully calibrated track listing adds an urgent, elegiac tenor to the visual poetry of the film. The lyrical and thematic trajectory, balanced delicately between hope and acceptance, is thoughtfully and lovingly indebted to the narrative of the film that it lends itself to. Tracks like “Hard Sun” offer a message of communion and companionship while tracks like “Long Nights” describe intentional isolation as an incubator of self growth, speaking to the contradiction Chris felt in his exploration of what solitude and community truly mean. There is a spirited angst and a pointed social critique that courses through the veins of songs like “Society” that parallels the film organically and powerfully.
Into the Wild accompanies me throughout the day, offering its soothing wisdom to long evening walks, downtempo writing sessions, and morning reading. The generosity and compassion behind Vedder’s words is a clarion call, imploring me to welcome presence, creativity, and a dose of the unknown into the daily processes of living. The Into the Wild soundtrack is revelatory in all its earnest simplicity, impactful with its pared down, folksy guitar chords and its uplifting melodies brought to life with a banjo and a mandolin. It is a reminder that life exists now, in the present, and that we are all invited to embrace it in all its mystery and beauty.