By Marie-Renee Goulet
Are there movies that you are unable NOT to watch if you fall upon them while channel surfing? Films that feel like you just stepped into a leg hold trap, and you know you’ll have to sit there and (happily) finish it? I have a list of them. A few movies have been filmed in a 100KM radius of where I live in the Rockies, and that usually ensures I’ll be watching. Disaster movies like San Andreas (2015) also get me, so if you couple a disaster movie with mountains, I’m watching it.
At first I thought Everest was based on “Into Thin Air” by John Krakauer as it depicts the disaster that occurred in May 1996, where eight people died after a deadly storm bore down on multiple groups of climbers. John Krakauer was part of one of those groups as he was tasked with writing an article on Everest for “Outside Magazine”. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) was happy to have Krakauer as his client, as this would mean great exposure for his guiding company, Adventure Consultants.
However, Krakauer came out and called the depictions of the events “total bull” and that if you want the truth, to read his book. I suspect that a scene meant to show how vulnerable and helpless you can find yourself on such a peak showed him unfavourably. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur and written by William Nicholson and Simon Beauty, they confirmed that they tried to look at things from a fair point of view and avoid choosing sides. Four advisors present during the disaster worked on the movie.
The cast is outstanding, and they are numerous, and it would not be easy to articulate each actor’s contribution to the story. So I’ll say: all of the following actors do a beautiful job of depicting their real-life counterparts Jason Clark (Rob Hall, guide and owner of Adventure Consultants), John Hawkes (Doug Hansen, returning customer who failed to reach the summit the year before), Michael Kelly (Krakauer says he was never contacted by Kelly who portrays him), Jake Gyllenhaal (Scott Fisher, an exuberant competing guide from “Mountain Madness”) Robin Wright (who is masterful at fleshing out Peach Weathers in a few minutes), Josh Brolin (Beck Weathers, customer), Keira knightly (Rob Hall’s pregnant wife), Sam Worthington (Guy Cotter, fellow guide), Emily Watson (Helen Wilton, base camp mom) and Russian leader of a third group, Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Sigordsson). Some have said that one weakness of the film was that characters are not sufficiently developed. I’m afraid I have to disagree. This is a disaster movie, not a drama. Anyone who has done any adventure travel knows that you will be placed within a group of strangers from all over the world. You will have to pay attention very intently in the first minutes of the initial meeting to understand who now has an influence on your life for the next few days.
If you are like me, no matter how active or adventurous, you know very well you will never climb Everest. If you want to know what it’s like, though, this is the movie for you. The visuals are amazing, and some shots will take your breath away. Location footage blends in with CGI seamlessly. There is no plot or typical movie structure as you get to live through a few days of May 1996 as the event unfolds. Some have lamented that the reasons to put oneself through all this suffering to reach the summit of Everest are not well explained. If you have set “bagging” Everest as a life goal, trained all your life, and spent a small fortune to achieve it, you’re not expected to have to explain yourself with fellow climbers. You just know. Do you want strangers to begin explaining their love of climbing as if they were on the couch in their therapist’s office? Where I think the movie fall short is showing the importance and history of the Sherpas. A great complementary documentary is Sherpa (2015).
The film shows the enterprise that Everest became. There are difficulties with the commercialization of the climb available to those who can shed $65,000 for a guide and Sherpa to ascend. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to ascend Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on May 25, 1953, denounced such businesses of guiding people up the mountain, calling it disrespectful. Recent pictures have shown literal traffic jams of people who don’t belong on such a mountain. Many don’t realize what undertaking such a climb means, and many go well beyond their abilities, placing everyone around them at a higher risk. There are over 200 bodies on Everest, you pretty much stay where you fall, forever. Mother Nature will always remind you who is in control.
I found plenty to care for in the characters, enough to send me reading “Into Thin Air” a second time and find interviews by survivors of this trip. Like in any tragedies, four or five hazards must perfectly line up to lead to an accident. If you are on Everest, the consequences of those hazards or bad decisions are fatal. There is a possibility that some deaths can be attributed to the competition between guides. That is heartbreaking because both Scott Fisher and Rob Hall were good-hearted, well-intended guides. What would happen if one group makes the summit and the other doesn’t because they turned around for safety reasons while all customers paid the same amounts? What happens to next year’s bookings? Tragically, both guides died on Everest that day, along with a few of their customers; others have life-altering injuries.
Life goes on as the movie’s final touching sequence shows. This movie is well done and well worth your time.
Now, please excuse me. I have a movie to finish.
Marie’s appreciation for movies & TV began early in life as it offered escapes, laughter, and often an education. It sparked a love of photography, travel, and a general curiosity for the world and everything in it. Originally from Quebec City, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Trebas Institute in 1998 where John H. Foote was her Film History professor. The winds pushed her into a different professional field and on a few adventures around the world. The passion for film and storytelling in all forms continues. Marie lives in the Canadian Rockies.