“Into the Wild” by Sean Penn


“Happiness is only real when shared”. This is the main idea of Into the Wild (2007) directed by Sean Penn. While watching the movie I became once again convinced of the righteousness of this statement. People are social creatures by their nature and they feel happy only when they are satisfied with their intercourse within the society they live in. The film made me think of the concept of a social group which implies the collection of people who know one another (or of one another), agree that they share something in common, and have continuous interaction with one another (Chapter 6 4).

I believe that these three components of the social group – knowing each other, having something in common, and interacting – to this or that extent constitute the formula of human happiness. And it is up to a person whether to care about the effectiveness of this formula or let it come what may. One can either seek his/her happiness in Alaska as the main character of the movie did or find it just without leaving the classroom where the lecture takes place.

Main body

To a significant extent, it is in the person’s power to find a way to his/her happiness. In sociology, this way is called socialization. The latter enables us to navigate our lives (Chapter 4 2). Agents of socialization that personal happiness may depend on are different individuals and institutions. Speaking of individuals as agents of socialization the science singles out family and friends (3) I believe that there is no full happiness if a person does not have at least ones of them. Institutions comprise education, politics, and media. One might claim that he/she can be happy without these items, but my firm belief is that each of them is important for helping people reveal themselves, build up their personalities, and seek happiness going by the needs of these personalities.

The problem of human happiness is closely connected to the concept of the development of self. I suppose that I will never forget the way this category is treated in sociology. Charles Cooley spoke of the looking glass self, the process by which we acquire a sense of self from the way others view us. Self-perception goes along with the development of self and is also crucial for one’s happiness. I find it extremely important to be able to see one’s strengths and weaknesses to decide on the steps to make to develop one’s personality. Cooley says

  1. We internalize the meanings of evaluative messages received;
  2. We learn to conform (7).

My point is that the importance of these actions in learning the game of life and becoming a successful player in it one can hardly overestimate.

Significant problems might appear when the rules existing in the game and the rules that the player wants to see are different. I am speaking of deviance as the behavior that violates the norms of a social group (Chapter 5 2). Deviant means are different from the norm. People can have beliefs, values, behaviors that can be different from what a social group considers to be the norm. Superbad (2007) directed by Greg Mottola offers numerous examples example of deviant behavior. For me, this movie is a mirror imaging of the American teenagers’ world at present. It may be said that Seth and Evan, the main characters of the movie, sought for their own happiness, even taking into account the fact that that happiness consisted of bringing alcohol to the party and having sexual intercourse with the girls.

On the way to their happiness several times they violated the norms. Though the concept of societal norms is rather vague, people do have some ideas and principles that unite them: drinking much at the party, using offensive words, and hiding from police is not good. Any society will confirm this fact. Still, the guys did not care about the norms existing in their society and acted as their moods took them.

From the point of view of sociology two, society-centered theories can be applicable to the boys’ behavior: differential association and subcultural theory (5). According to the differential association, deviants learn by example. A deviant is socialized by another deviant (5). For most of the students, the boys lived with drinking, having sex at an early age, and disrespect for the elderly was a common norm. Therefore, in some way, Seth and Evan can be seen as victims of their society. They learned by numerous examples that violating the norm is the norm in itself.

The subcultural theory states that deviants are socialized in a particular group rather than a particular individual. The subculture in and of itself is deviant (5). Applying the theory to the movie I suppose that the student community in its greater part can be considered as this particular group. As long as deviations in this group exist, as long the norms of the outer community will be broken by concrete individuals.


I do realize that I cannot change radically the state of affairs in modern American society but I also think that it is sociology as a science that can bring the changes needed. The three things from the class that appealed to me most of all are socialization theory, the concept of development of self, and the theories of deviance. The problems that sociology deals with are not restricted to these three fields. I am inclined to think that the more knowledge on sociology one has the more chances to solve the problems existing in the society appear.

Works Cited

Into the Wild. Dir. Sean Penn. Perfs. Emilie Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden. Paramount Vantage, 2007.

Luhman, Reid. The Sociological Outlook. Collegiate Pr, 1988.

Superbad. Dir. Greg Mottola. Pers. Jonah Hill, Michael Cera. Columbia Pictures, 2007.

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