I created this Into the Wild “literary allusions odyssey” movie guide for my students to use while watching the excellent 2007 film based on the book by Jon Krakauer about the life of Christopher Johnson McCandless.
Did you know there are eight passages from a variety of texts sprinkled throughout the movie? There are references to works by Thoreau, Tolstoy, Pasternak, Wallace Stegner, Lord Byron, and contemporary poet Sharon Olds, the 2022 recipient of the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry.
For this “literary allusions odyssey” movie guide, I knew that I did NOT want to create a movie guide that would occupy so much viewing time that students wouldn’t have the opportunity to simply watch and take in this beautiful Sean Penn-directed film.
Instead, I chose to focus on the literary allusions and the structure of the movie by having students notice how the film is broken into five chapters; students fill in the name of each chapter as it appears. Each chapter contains one to three thought-provoking and inspirational literary allusions. When students hear McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) reading the quote, they fill in the missing words. I have included the locations of each chapter’s beginning and of each literary allusion on the key, so you can easily find them if needed.
Below each quoted allusion, the guide also includes the name of the text, author, publication date, and a brief description of each literary allusion. It is my hope that the additional information about each text will foster deeper-level discussions with your class about some well-known pieces of literature and how those texts were woven into the screenplay, similar to how they formed the spiritual fabric underpinning Christopher McCandless’ restless being.
As an extension activity after the movie, have students work in groups to choose an allusion, conduct additional brief research on their chosen literary work and its author, and then present their findings to the class.
Read my blog post about how I use Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer alongside Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. My blog post also contains a free downloadable list of all Thoreau allusions and mentions made throughout the book plus other resources you’ll find useful in your lesson planning.
Note: Into the Wild is rated R. Read more about the movie’s rating at the “Teaching with Movies” website.
Please let me know how your students do with this resource by leaving a comment or review. If you have questions, please feel free to ask. THANK YOU!
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