“Still, there’s a lucidity that sometimes comes in that moment when you find yourself looking at the world through your tears, as if those tears served as a lens to clarify what it is you’re looking at.”
Though the opposite is true with Into the Forest, why do even the most radical fiction and nonfiction that go so far building an anti-civilization case tend to keep clinging to it in the end? Crossing the bridge to returning wild may simply not be an option for a human stuck in the progress trap even though they become entirely distressed with it, especially if they lack a lush human primate habitat nearby. For those who have the option and nerve, whether out of necessity or pure will, the journey may at first seem adventurous yet impossible. But during the cross the lucidity of primalism resurges making barriers easier to overcome, ambling on with a flow and ease. Why then as the systems collapses are starting, do almost all humans cling harder? Nevertheless, there have always been some along the margins who sense the calling to resist, who choose release.
Do humans need to learn and practice survival skills in preparation for major collapse before it happens? Are humans braced to cope emotionally for events following cataclysmic systems failure? Answers may lie in metaphorical storyteller Jean Hegland’s 1996 first novel Into the Forest when two sisters engrossed in civilization are suddenly immersed in widespread electricity breakdown. The story centers on the paced, evolving relationship between Eva and Nell as the technologically dependent society they were born into crumbles testing them to survive alone in lush second growth redwood forest. Fiery feelings dance with relationship intensities while acquiring abilities to survive on the fly motivated by sheer need. Through a series of losses and adversities met by grief and adaptations, they tackle the transition in fits and starts moving from strong attachments to civilized living to in the end embracing a wild lifeway.
A 2016 indie film adaptation of Into the Forest directed by Patricia Rozema starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood replaces Nell’s edifying inner point of view with enlivening sights and sounds. Modern society trickles to a halting massive power outage, silence on the radio and no more gas. After their father dies in a chain saw accident, Eva and Nell’s instincts wake as reality hits, this is not merely a temporary setback. Just as they begin to emerge from the initial shock of the tragedy they are hit with another; in the throes of civilization’s unraveling comes a rape. They suffer deep pains with this confounded situation as they retreat from the now disappearing and dangerous town community into their isolated steadily failing house structure in the forest. With flush symbolism such as a metronome persistently dividing time into civilization’s absurdly rigid beats for Eva to hold on to her civilized identity as dancer, the surface actions float atop a more profound statement on the human lifeway.
While on the surface a post-apocalyptic, dystopia-to-utopianish fiction, from start to finish this story is a study on character development. Page and Wood give convincing, emotionally packed performances as they shift from lifeway with synthetic objects providing novelty, safety, shelter and food, into lifeway embedded within organic forest. The audience empathizes with raw emotions of the sisters’ metamorphosis inch by inch, then leap by leap toward wildness. Along with the characters, the audience’s feelings sway between vulnerable and hopeful as civilization’s barriers are crossed into wild. The characters’ changing operating beliefs bring the audience to reflect on fundamental questions on notions of home, the nature of humans, relationships, attachments and sustenance.
“When amnesia continues for an extended period of time, the amnesiac occasionally begins a new life entirely unrelated to his previous condition. This response is called a “fugue state.”
In the story’s beginning there is a foretelling of taking on a ‘fugue state’ identity, which by the story’s end is revealed as civilization itself, and the return to the original identity as a return to indigenous lifeways. When Eva and Nell’s transition to forest women reveals how loss of wild lifeway can be recovered. As their wildness rouses, Eva’s rape pregnancy awakens their animal instincts. She gives birth in an old-growth stump hollow, then burns down the decaying house, their last hold on civilization, to solidify their transition into open habitat as their final choice. The sisters show that humans can both cowardly and heroically recover from civilization driven by both fear and hope, drawing on dormant yet intact instincts, reverting to primal life, to their innate identity.
Criticisms: 1. The movie could have inspired more action from the audience if it had explored practical survival strategies and foraging and gathering details more in depth as in the book, e.g. how they prepared acorns as their staple food. 2. There are minor mistaken details, for example civilization bias with the B12 myth. Despite the modern belief that B12 can only be acquired by eating animals, it is just a byproduct of a bacteria found in soil. Earlier humans derived it from eating roots and drinking free flowing water, something civilization finds disgusting and dangerous. But the sisters were deeper in the forest where their creek and grotto seep would less likely be tainted by civilization. They were doing so well foraging and gathering, if they would have drank water from the ground or eaten wild roots with less vigorous washing, they would have taken the next step toward surviving as wild animals. 3. The story ends right after Eva and Nell’s full step into wildness. Though their rudimentary forest skills are balanced by their bravery to live life not just deter death, and newfound confidence in acquiring and honing wild ways, the audience is left longing to explore what happens next.
This believable fiction feels like the first in a trilogy. The second might shift away from relying on intelligence through guidance from books and rationality toward intuitive awareness and deeper awakening of their animal instincts, reawakening awareness of other indigenous life forms, and repositioning humans’ role from Takers to mutualistic Givers by joining with other wild humans in wild tending the bioregion. This piece would ideally be co-written with guidance from indigenous people who are revitalizing their culture by restoring and wild tending habitats with native plants. Hegland may be interested in writing this sequel being she donated a portion of her book’s proceeds to World Stewardship Institute for reforestation. The final piece in the trilogy might be the completion of humans’ total return to primal life. Inspiration could be drawn from Jean Craighead-George’s Julie of the Wolves, a naturalist writing on an indigenous girl rewilding her primitive animal being, and William Golding not for his best known Lord of the Flies, but for his favorite book of all his own writings, The Inheritors. The pre-historic story is a lifelike recreation of Homo neanderthalensis’ first encounter with Homo sapiens. Then readers can further envision the possibility and path of humans adapting to living wild as post-historic human animals.
Whether or not humans somehow collectively decide to end their colonizing ways, when civilization can no longer support the burdensome leviathan of the supremacist humanway, it will implode making humans’ only choice rewild or die. Eva and Nell show that humans can adapt to conditions quickly, there is little need for much survival prep. Situational need, ability to emotionally cope and openness to adapt are the greatest how-to teachers on liberation from civilization. Great remembering through great release sparks a vitality of humans as re-thriving primal beings in re-thriving communities of wild life.
Finally, an ending that doesn’t back down.
Ria, rewilder of wetlands and forests https://veganprimitivist.wordpress.com/