I simply do not understand some things. For example, why would anyone in his or her right mind intentionally risk High Altitude Cerebral Edema, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, frostbite, hypothermia, thrombosis, embolisms, sunburn, snow blindness, broken bones, and death? AND PAY BETWEEN $30,000 AND $100,000 FOR THE “PRIVILEGE”?
Yes, throughout the years approximately 4,000 people have laid out hard-earned cash for the fun (?) of attempting to climb to the top of Mt. Everest, which is 29,029 feet above sea level. (Incidentally this is the cruising altitude of a 747 passenger jet.) Although the statistics vary a bit, the most consistent ones list 660 successful attempts to reach the massive mountain’s summit, and more than 250 have perished on its deadly slopes.
One of the worst disasters in Everest’s storied history occurred in 1996, when brutal snowstorm claimed the lives of eight climbers, and this tragedy is the subject of “Everest,” a chilling (intended) and heart-wrenching film directed by Baltasar Kormakur (“2 Guns”).
The story begins in March 1996 with the arrival some separate expeditions in Lukla, Nepal, in preparation for the climb. One of the guides for the Adventures Consultants group is Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), and among those going with him up the mountain are the following: Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a guy who has had a lot of experience climbing; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a retired mailman who has always wanted to climb Everest; and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), an accomplished climber who hopes to be the oldest woman ever to conquer Everest.
Mountain Madness is the name of another expedition under the leadership of Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), and stationed at the Everest Base Camp is Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), who stays in constant walkie-talkie communication with the guides during the climb.
After introducing the main characters and giving a little background about their personal lives, the film concentrates on chronicling the climb. Interestingly enough Rob’s ascent on May 10 proceeded relatively smoothly with the exception of Beck, who experienced vision difficulty and some others who were delayed because there were so many additional climbers on the mountain.
Rob made it to the summit on schedule, and Yasuko also joined him there to fulfill her dream. The joy of the accomplishment was ephemeral, however, because during the descent a massive blizzard hit, and eight people died on the mountainside.
“Everest” definitely is a film worth seeing, but parts of it are very difficult to watch unless you’re into viewing people suffer and ultimately freeze to death. The cast is outstanding, and the acting is consistently excellent throughout the movie, but the performances take a back seat to the events, and the main star in the film is that ginormous mountain. As I watched the climbers battle the forces of nature, I continued to wonder why in the hell anyone could possibly want to be subjected to such dangerous misery. In the film’s production notes Kormakur pointed out that what motivates people to attempt the climb really is not an answerable question.
“You might ask, ‘Why do you need to climb Everest?’ and nobody can really answer that. But you might also ask, ‘Why do you need to live life? Why do you need to have a career?’ Even people who have a lot of money, they still need to have careers. So it’s one of these questions that is hard to answer.”
The cinematography in this film is spectacular as it offers breathtaking shots of Everest from myriad angles. The sheer cliffs, the frozen the slopes, and the icy crags reinforced my wonderment that people want to tackle climbing this monster. In the production notes Gyllenhaal provided a thought-provoking answer to my question.
“My interest in this movie has always been about the people who climbed Everest on this expedition and their reasons for doing it. I think the simple idea of climbing Mt. Everest is exciting. But it’s each person’s reasoning for doing it that is truly fascinating. Everest begs the questions inside all of us: What do we want to accomplish in our lives? What gives our lives meaning? This mountain, literally or figuratively, asks that question to everyone. It’s a metaphor for so many things, and it is Mother Nature humbling us.
“It’s not about getting to the top; it’s about community and the connection with the climbers around you. The summit is not always literal. It would seem to me that the real summit is the connection to the people with whom you are climbing. We don’t realize that we’ve summited already, in the relationships that we make. Sometimes, as in the case of this story, it’s too late before you realize that.”
Of course as the lead guide, Hall is one of the main characters in the film, and in the production notes Clarke explained his attachment to the story and talked about his character.
“Rob had a great love for the mountains and the wild places on Earth. It is one thing to want to do it yourself, but quite another to want to share it and take other people. From what I’ve learned, Rob truly loved to take people, and to help them see what he saw and achieve their goals.
“I knew the story. I remember where I was when I heard it was happening, and because it unfolded over a number of days, it gave people time to think about it and imagine the full horror. The story is so affecting, and I had a real emotional connection to it.”
The fact that Everest is based upon the true events of the tragedy that occurred in 1996, automatically makes the film worth watching. Movies based upon factual occurrences are most often worthwhile because they are educational. I confess that I really didn’t know that much about the 1996 climb, and for that reason I’m very glad I saw the film. But I could never sit through it again because I really don’t enjoy see human suffering and death. I also happen to despise cold weather, and so enduring almost two hours of watching people slip and slide around in subzero temperatures is not among my favorite things to do.
Because I always judge film’s appeal, greatness, and score, by whether or not I could sit through it again and again, “Everest” does not reach the peak of a 10. However, I do recommend it because it is fascinating to see what some people are willing to risk for achieving their goals. Thus, the film earns the final score of a very respectable eight, and it firmly cements my opinion that I’m a devout coward.