The idea of the road is one of the most powerful symbols of the American identity. Indeed, Americans have built the road into a symbol of hope and adventure. Today the ideas of freedom and independence related to the road are part of the American culture as much as they were in the pioneer era .
However, the road is a very paradoxical concept as it can be synonymous with both home and opportunity, comfort and hardship, the known and the unknown.
The theme of the road has inspired many artists. Indeed, the myth has been reinvented in movies, books, songs…
To illustrate that solitude and independence is what drives people along the road, I chose to talk about the movie “Into The Wild” by Sean Penn, released in 2007. It is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless. After graduating from university, this 22 year-old-man chooses to give up on a bright future ahead of him and turns his back on society. McCandless leaves everything behind him and hits the road in order to be free and to stay out of the consumer society. To him, the quest of happiness implies solitude and independence: he describes his odyssey as the search of the ultimate freedom. He wishes to live alone in a world where the only laws he has to follow are those of nature. The young man is going to discover Arizona, California, Dakota, Colorado on his way to Alaska where he will settle down in an abandoned bus, among snow-capped mountains. There, McCandless finds the spiritual peace and harmony he has been looking for. Months passing by, life gets harder as he runs out of food and he realizes that nature can be harsh. Unfortunately, McCandless ends up eating toxic roots and poisons himself in the old bus.
To my mind, “Into the wild” is very much related to the theme of the road as the hero’s trip takes a major part in the movie. We see him go from state to state, experiencing new things, meeting new people, taking risks… He leaves home, his comfort, what is known and familiar to him for the unknown, for unpredictable dangers and hardships. But what drives him along the road the whole time, is his dream of freedom, of a life which seems more enriching to him. Most of the time, people hit the road to break away from everyday life, in search of adventure, in order to find who they are.
Moreover, McCandless meets several people during his journey. They definitely shape his vision of the world and of life in general, and I think this is a very important aspect of “the road”: learning and growing as a human being. But hitting the road on our own can also be a disillusion, as it is for him when he finally understands that “Happiness only real when shared”.
As a conclusion we could say that this movie is the perfect example of the myth of the road being taken over by the artistic world. Indeed, this myth is part of America’s legacy ; a piece of their history, like the essence of the American spirit.