Ella’s two case study on the pursuit of happiness nowadays





Sean Penn,( 2008) Into the Wild.





David Bond, (2013) Project Wild Thing.



For my two case studies, I choose to analyse one documentary called “Project Wild Thing” directed by David Bond and a movie by Sean Penn called “Into The Wild” based on a true story. The latter came out in 2008 and was inspired by the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who after graduating from Emory University decides to leave everything he knew behind: family, friends, money… to live in the wilderness. I chose this movie because it was interesting to me to view the journey of a individual who bluntly chooses to leave the society he grew up in, to leave civilization behind and to enter a new lifestyle for the first time: Nature. Christopher wanted to live off the wild land, hunt his own food, like in the Prehistoric Ages. I was intrigued by the story because it was the story of a man who had the courage to make a drastic change in his lifestyle in the pursuit of his freedom and happiness. That subject relates to my research in the way that it refers to the act of rethinking about your current situation in the purpose of satisfying your mental health. My research is based on Maslow’s theories on true happiness and the hierarchy of human needs. Christopher was tormented by the unhappiness of his parents‘ marriage. The resentment that his father and mother had for each other began to affect the well-being of their son Christopher and his sister Carine McCandless. In the movie Christopher McCandless expresses a lot of anger and hate towards his parents in a way that they are shown to be the main reason why he has chosen to leave everything behind. He chose to leave his family without any warning and made sure that he couldn’t be find either. In his first few weeks in the wilderness, Christopher expresses joy and wonder when he sees around him all these beautiful natural environments. We see him enjoying his freedom in Nature. As he travels around these beautiful environments, he does meet on his way different people with whom he shares pleasant moments. Some people even get attached to him but he still chooses to go the wilderness alone. Unfortunately for him, he ends up being trapped by Nature when he accidently eats deadly wild berries that he picked out in the rush of calming his starvation. In his sorrow he realised that true happiness is best lived shared. He understands the importance of having relationship with other people at the end, which is the point in the story that interests me the most. Relating to my research, the importance of human connection with each other for the well-being of our mental health was argued. But this movie shows to the audience how human relationship with one another is quite crucial to our survival. Sean Penn directed the movie by making an adaptation of the book of the same title “Into The Wild” written by Jon Krakauer. Sean Penn read the book quite a few times but only started making the movie 10 years after reading the book. He only re-read it after he had started making drafts of the movie. He realised after making the drafts when he re-read the book that his drafts were practically identic to the story he had read 10 years ago. Very few changes were to be made. The main resources he used to make the movie were primordially the book written by Jon Krakauer. He found it very enlightening, he could picture in his head vivid images of the action. He also did his own research by travelling to the places where Christopher McCandless went. He also met the real characters involved in the Christopher’s life such as his real parents and sister and also the people he met during his adventures in the wild. All these discussions with those people helped him shape the story better. To share this true life story with the audience, Sean Penn filmed the real surroundings where Christopher McCandless adventured but also reconstructed the bus that he actually lived in in the wilderness. Sean likes to tell this young man’s story but cutting and separating different key moments of the main character’s life such as : his first hunt, his first encounters with a couple living on the road, his parents’ big fight that scared his little sister… Sean liked to mixed those moments not in a chronological manner but went back and forth with the story telling for the audience to picture Christopher’s present situation in the movie and also understand his past that would explain his present situation. In his interview Sean Penn believed that the surroundings themselves that he chose to film would truly communicate the true life story of Christopher McCandless to the audience. My second case study is a documentary called “Project Wild Thing” directed by David Bond. David is concerned about his kids watching too much television and not spending enough time outdoors. He decides to name himself the “Marketing Director of Nature” and gives himself 2 months to launch a campaign for Nature. He wants to sell Nature as a Brand for people, especially kids. His goal is to bring kids back to Nature. The documentary shows the audience the process by which David goes through to make his plans a reality. He shares with the public his success, struggles and failures as a Marketing Director of Nature. I chose this documentary because I was interests in knowing how David Bond would do to bring Nature back to kids when kids nowadays spend most of their time playing on ipads and watching television. What I’ve liked about the documentary is that David engages with the audience by talking to the camera directly and sharing his thoughts at all times. And he is not afraid to show the struggles of reality as he is trying to advertise Nature to people. David argues how in his days as a kid he would spend so much time outdoors and thought that maybe the taste’s of kids today had changed but, during his research, by talking to different people, he soon realises that it was actually the parents who were spreading their fear of the outdoors onto their children. Throughout his launch for his campaign for Nature, David talks to different experts around the subject of Nature. The audience sees him talking to a brain scientist, a writer and environmentalist, a brand sale expert and advisor, a psychologist, psych biologist and neurologist, also a seasoned environmental campaigner… As David learns from all these people, the audience also gets educated from his discussions. The documentary informs the audience on the importance of Nature in the lives of human beings and the role that Nature plays in the well-being of human beings. According to a large number of studies a patient in a hospital would recovers more quickly and need less medication if that patient has a view of a natural habitat. Also students who have a view on a natural environment score better in tests. It is said in the documentary that the lack of natural environments in the lives of kids will and do affect the well-being of an individual. All these information are given to the audience in illustration. David Bond chose to mixed live action with animation in his documentary, which I found to be given some charm to the film. As more people get involve in his campaign, a lot of interesting and innovative ideas come about and David is pleased. This film shows also the advantage and importance of working in a large group. For his film and campaign, David was quickly supported by the “National Trust”. David really wanted with this documentary not only to raise awareness but also motivate people to do something about this issue. So he made this documentary with one though in mind: advertise Nature to the public. To reach the audience David wasn’t shy in sharing his own situation at home with his wife and children.

I’ve chosen to make a short clip that would represent my own way of approaching Nature and show it to the public. In both case studies that I’ve analyse the director had tried to represent Nature at its best. In the movie “Into The Wild” Sean Penn used real images of natural environments in America. In the documentary “Project Wild Thing”, David concentrated more on the activities you can do to have fun in Nature. I choose to advertise Nature as an unknown and secret place. Here in the link to my short clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbNqKWWuCkE&feature=youtu.be

In both case studies the film reflects on two main subject that refers to my research: one subject is about the importance of Nature in the lives of human beings and the second subject is about the importance of a connection, a relationship between human beings. Both case studies approached the subjects differently. In the movie “Into The Wild”, Sean Penn represented Nature as a wild and uncontrollable place but also as a spiritual and fulfilling place. He chose to use real natural environments for his movie. At the beginning of the movie, when the main character Christopher McCandless arrives in the deserted Alaskan wilderness, the audience witnesses his joy for freedom and his wonder over the beautiful sites. He enjoys depending on his physical strengths to survive. He feels free, courageous and strong. The character tells the audience about the importance of testing your physical strength once in while against natural forces, he believed it to be reassuring and necessary. The audience could see Christopher connecting with nature and having a spiritual awakening. But at the end of the movie the same place that brought him all these amazing experiences also brought him pain and loneliness. When the same land that he fed on for several months had suddenly nothing to give to eat to Christopher, he had to collect wild berries to survive against starvation. Unfortunately he accidently confuses two types of wild berries and end up eating a deadly type, which leads him to his death. When he realises that he could no longer leave this land, he felt the loneliness and realised that “true happiness was best lived shared”. The same parents that he ran away from was now in his mind before he died, he imagined running into their arms with a smile. All this made me think that maybe Christopher needed to do this escape but he was running away from his problem with his parents. What I find interesting in that movie is actually the ending, because it resumed the research I’ve done on human beings experiencing true happiness, following Maslow’s theories on true happiness and the hierarchy of human needs. With the example of the character Christopher McCandless, who was lacking communication with his parents and ended up hating them because of the misery and the resentment that existed between the two parents, he decides to leave everything behind in the search for freedom and fulfilment. Nature did bring him some kind of fulfilment but not everything he needed. There was still this empty space for “love and belonging” which is one of the human needs that was argued to be very important in the pursuit of true happiness. He felt trapped in the society where he was forced to put up with his parents that would fight all the time, which would affect his happiness in result. He felt he needed to escape. So he did. He escaped from everything and everyone, which satisfied him at first, but even on his escape, he did meet a couple of people with whom he would get along with. But he would still want to go back on his own. His tragic and unexpected sorrow at the end brought him to clarity that he did need to have relationship with people in order to survive. If Christopher would have chosen to come clean in front of his parents and talked wit them about his issues with this marriage, I don’t think he would have had to escape to the wilderness so badly. But he did see the advantages of doing so and the movie shows some of them. For example, when Christopher has been living off the land for a few weeks, hunting down squirrels and other wild animals, we see him eating an apple with degustation. He enjoyed it with a lot more gratitude than a normal person would do, which showed the value of tasty organic foods that nature gives us. Also like I mentioned earlier, the advantages of challenging yourself against nature, argued by Christopher to be a necessary activity for your mental and physical health. Whereas, in the documentary “ Project Wild Thing”, David Bond represents Nature as a fun and exiting place for children. When he talks about Nature he refers to the forests and the parks that you can find near your house. He refers to Nature as a fun distraction from school and other activities. It’s not about going off and living in the wild but about re-organising your life around Nature. When he tries to advertise Nature to teenagers, they are quite sceptical about it. They raised problems such as not having really nice nature around them in London. And if they did have to choose between going outside and staying at home, they would prefer staying at home. David understood that Nature wasn’t popular between youngsters. But when he brought those same teenagers outside to the closest grass area, he could notice their face lighting up and they quickly felt comfortable outside and found things to do. He was now reassured that Nature could be really enjoyed. He just had to give them something that would make them want to go outside. By working with a bigger group of people during his campaign for Nature, interesting ideas came about to attract the kids to Nature such as a list of games that they could play in a forest or on the grass, also a list of challenges they could do such as kissing a frog or hold a worm in their hand… In his documentary, David thought about using Nature in a fun and interactive way. Not only that but he also got information from experts about the importance of Nature in the lives of kids. He argued that there was no evidence that technology was bad for children but that the lack of Nature around them would affect their mental health. David says: “We think we’ve outgrown nature. But playing god doesn’t make us happy, it just fuels our competitive urges.” David sees that technology is all around us and has a big place in marketing. He wishes he could market Nature just the same. What is interesting to me is that the documentary shows the progress of his campaign launch for Nature and his struggles. He comes with a lot of ideas that after speaking with a professional are left behind. He learns from a lot people and you can see that he couldn’t make it on his own. He needed the help of a lot of people. At the end of the documentary, David realises that while being so focused on his project to bring kids back to Nature he forgets about his own kids and feels bad about it, he even conclude the documentary by saying that the most important thing is to be with your kids and see them grow up, which intrigued me because it seemed that at the end he stopped the progress of his project. Nonetheless David does value the importance of team work and his relationship with his wife and children. In the process of making people aware of this deficit in Nature in the children’s life, the documentary also ends up sending also a second message that is to value the importance of building relationships and spending time with the family. Therefore both case studies shows their own representation of Nature, and shows the importance of human connection. In my experiment I chose to represent Nature in a different way. I chose to represent in the eyes of someone who hasn’t really lived in Nature: Nature as a hallucination and a mystical place and unknown territory.


David Bond (2013), Project Wild Thing.

Sean Penn (2008), Into The Wild.


A. H. Maslow, A Theory Of Human Motivation, 1943.


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