American wilderness dream aside, McCandless died because he was not able to cross a river. There was a manual cable car in the vicinity that he could have used easily, but he didn’t know because he deliberately avoided carrying a map. To me, McCandless’ quest was a suicide fantasy, which is tragic enough. On the other hand, Timothy Treadwell was reasonably equipped, relatively well prepared and also exceptionally lucky, until one day his luck ended. But he was also scientifically misguided in his conservation efforts and apparently a maladjusted individual in general. Again, tragic enough.
Sean Penn celebrated McCandless as a lone American hero, which in some ways he was, while Werner Herzog had a lot of original footage available so he was able to do something more interesting, he celebrated Treadwell as an unconventional film maker.
Because of his obsessions, his slightly disturbed personality and a peculiar vision, Treadwell was able to capture on film a unique feeling of being in the wild that is generally denied to us city folks, common hikers, professionals of assorted background and civilized people in general. We can have glimpses, sometimes in person, or through Werner Herzog, while Treadwell had thirteen full summers of that (until he was mauled to death having lingered into the wild too long into the Autumn when bears get really hungry).
I’m also including Plastic Bag, just because.