The cost of ignorance is both a blessing and a curse: it is the one quality that can simultaneously provoke and suppress us to making discoveries because for there to be a transformative revelation there must be at least a momentary recognition of the unknown. Only then can discovery be liberating and exhilarating, empowering us with renewed perceptions. This notion can be explored through Michael Gow’s play ‘Away’ and Sean Penn’s thought-provoking movie ‘Into The Wild’ (2007), where both composers explore discovery through the concept of retrospect and its link with time- where the characters are clinging to outmoded certainties that prevent them from fully experiencing the richness of their current circumstances. Through the characters’ discoveries in AWAY, Gow serves them as allegories for the bifurcation of the Australian population from a conservative to a progressive outlook- the national struggles with competing ideas of identity, change and innovation. While, INTO THE WILD, explore the paradoxical leaving of familiar surroundings making individuals realise that challenging our most fundamental perceptions can trigger growth and change, ultimately allowing us to embrace the new. The study of the two texts…
Throughout the play AWAY, Gow mimeticises the ways in which the ramifications of discovery can challenge our most fundamental perceptions; the consequences of discovery are dependent on our inclination to accept or reject information that contradicts our most unquestioned, fervently held assumptions and beliefs. Gow uses intertextuality as a metatheatrical framing device to position the audience, on the interplay between revelation and the ignorance inherent in any act of discovery: the play begins with the ending of one of Shakespeare’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Tom is established as a catalytic character through his role as Puck in the mise-en-abyme of the play. “Give me your hands … And Robin will restore amends” foreshadows the mending of characters through Tom by invoking rediscovery through their inner strength to reconnect with those around them. Tom’s therapeutic nature can be explored through Coral as they put on a meta-play ‘Strangers by the Shore,’ where Tom “shows her how” indicative of Tom’s ability to bring other characters to a greater discovery. Coral’s transition from, “come with me… into the darkness” into the metaphoric repetition of, “I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking” explores the confronting of reality and allows her to discover a world that is not stricken with grief, misery and loss; she has rediscovered a world in which she can move on from her son’s death- a world where she is strong.
Before unveiling her empathy, Gwen represents the typical 60s housewife manifested in conspicuous consumption whilst being ignorant of others. Her clinging to rigidly to the assumptions of past discoveries prevent her from forming positive relationships as demonstrated when Vic and Harry talk about their “tenting” holiday and Gwen declares “We’ve got a new caravan. Everything in it you want.” Gow uses the caravan to symbolise Gwen’s prioritisation of materialistic wealth creating a conceited tone. However, through Tom’s imminent death, Gwen comes to realise her lack of 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. Gwen who discovers the importance of familial relationships over materialism.
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.
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.