These days, Israeli author Yossi Ghinsberg travels the world giving motivational speeches in defense of the Amazon Rainforest and the indigenous people who call it their home. However, there was a time back in 1981 when the jungle threatened to swallow Ghinsberg up completely.
Aside from his various humanitarian efforts, Ghinsberg is most well known for his remarkable survival story that has now been adapted into a movie by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Jungle explores what happened to Yossi Ghinsberg when he was stranded alone in a previously uncharted area of the Bolivian Amazon Rainforest for three long weeks. Movie Pilot was fortunate enough to speak to Ghinsberg directly and discover the true story behind Jungle.
'Jungle' — A True Story
Unlike most movies of this nature, Jungle's tag-line claims that the film is "A True Story," not just inspired or based upon real events. Ghinsberg confirmed this to us, explaining how director Greg McLean wanted to keep Jungle as authentic as possible by sticking to the words he wrote in the memoir Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival:
"My book was the reference for [McLean]. He didn't want to tell anything but the true story. Which, by the way, is enough in itself; it doesn't need dramatization or embellishment."
Embellishment is certainly one thing that Jungle doesn't need. After all, it didn't take long for Yossi's story to transform from a journey of self discovery into a real-life nightmare, even though things started out rather promising at first.
How It All Began
While hitchhiking in Bolivia, Ghinsberg met a mysterious man called Karl Ruprechter who claimed that he was planning to hunt for gold in a remote, indigenous Tacana village. Along with Yossi's friend Marcus Stamm and a new acquaintance called Kevin Gale, the four set out on an expedition deep into the jungle.
The 21-one-year-old Ghinsberg and his group first flew to the Amazonian town of Rurrenabaque where the local people warned them of the dangers that lay ahead. Despite these protestations, the four sailed on down the Beni River, delving deeper into the jungle. After following Ruprechter's map for several days, the group began to bicker when it became clear that Karl was lying about the gold and even his true identity as an Austrian criminal.
Already low on supplies, the four decided to go their separate ways, splitting into two groups. Gale and Ghinsberg built a raft to continue traveling while Ruprechter and Stamm decided to walk back up river. The group planned to meet up again once their journey was over in La Paz, but despite several rescue missions, Ruprechter and Stamm were never seen again.
When we asked Ghinsberg what he thought had happened to Karl and Marcus, he told us that:
"I will never know. I like to think it was short and violent, that they died fast due to a raging flood coming down the gorge — I'd hate to think they were separated and that Marcus who was frail had to go through torment. But as I say, we will never know."
Unfortunately, Gale and Ghinsberg were soon separated too after their raft lost control in the surging currents of the river. While Gale successfully made it to shore and soon found his way back to civilization, Ghinsberg spent the next three weeks lost in an uncharted area of the Amazon without food or supplies — and that's where the hardest part of the story begins.
Yossi Ghinsberg And The Jungle Of Secrets
In the movie adaptation of Ghinsberg's story, audiences watch Daniel Radcliffe do everything he can to survive, fighting off quicksand, floods, rotting fungal infections, and inevitably, starvation. Despite seeing it all play out on screen, it's still impossible to imagine what it must have really been like to live alone in the jungle for three weeks, cut off from civilization.
Even more than the worms embedded under his skin or the crunchy bird fetus in his stomach, the one single thing that Ghinsberg found hardest was the isolation:
"I never appreciated the importance of other people as much, and never stopped appreciating it ever since. It was harder than the hunger, the fear, the injury and disease. I longed for human connection."
This unbearable loneliness comes to the fore toward the end of Jungle when we realize that an indigenous woman who suddenly accompanies Ghinsberg is in fact a product of his imagination. That's not all though. In fact, it would have been impossible for McLean to condense all of Ghinsberg's trials into one movie, which unfortunately left out:
- When Ghinsberg woke up covered in leeches.
- When Ghinsberg slipped down a slope and impaled his rectum on a broken stick.
- When Ghinsberg woke up to find a swarm of termites eating patches of his skin where he'd urinated on himself.
Although #Jungle couldn't include every aspect of Ghinsberg's harrowing journey, he ultimately feels that it captures its essence:
"If you read [Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival], you'd see this was just an abbreviation. The story is bigger in scope, the characters need further exposition, yet, the essence is there, and I think that it does get under the viewer's skin. It touches the heart and that is the most important thing — and the movie does deliver that."
In fact, the heart of any survival story is the final rescue, which #DanielRadcliffe admirably brings to life toward the end of Jungle. Lying on the verge of death, Ghinsberg heard the sound of an engine on the river and mustered what little strength he had left long enough to signal Gale and the indigenous people searching for him nearby. What we don't see in the movie though is that after Ghinsberg was rescued, he spent the following three months recovering in the hospital.
You Can Take The Man Out Of The Jungle...
What Ghinsberg endured during these three weeks lost in the jungle changed his life forever, but not in the ways that you might expect:
"I'd say that the only trauma I've suffered was existential. I had no lasting physical trauma nor a psychological one. I never had a nightmare about it or felt afraid to get back out there to nature — quite the opposite in fact. Yet, it was hard to return to the old path, I found myself asking big questions: Why was my life spared? What is my purpose here? And it led me to a life of inquiry... For many years, I roamed the planet in search of answers to existential questions. I went into the established religions first, and then to alternative teachings and Shamism. I was touched by the sacred once and wanted to taste more."
Since Ghinsberg's expedition came to an unexpected end in 1981, the intrepid explorer has since returned to the jungle to develop an ecotourism resort and help support the indigenous people in their daily lives. Now that his story is hitting the big screen, Ghinsberg is also determined to continue inspiring others by staging his experiences in "an immersive theater experience where [Ghinsberg] will tell the story directly to audiences."
Whether you're drowning in the raging rapids of a coursing river or the unexpected trials of everyday life, Ginsberg hopes that his time in the jungle will help inspire people in all walks of life, whatever form his story may take:
"Despite the natural belittling of one's self, the doubts, the insecurities, we have to wake up to the realization that we all write our own autobiography, we are the authors of our life story. Realizing that, write a good story with your life and make sure to write yourself as the protagonist. Be the hero of your journey, find your gifts, hear your calling, carve your own path. And if you direct your own movie, make it Bollywood, incorporate song and dance. Life already has enough adversities. If it's your choice, lace it with song and dance."
Audiences can follow Yossi Ghinsberg into the Amazon when Jungle hits screens on October 20. And remember to let us know what you think of Jungle in the comments section below!
(Source: Washington Post)