Famous mountaineer, Gregory Mallory, wrote of Mount Everest, “If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy… That is what life means and what life is for.” Mallory died in 1924 on his third attempt to be the first to summit the world’s highest mountain.
There are many reasons why the professional and amateur climbers in the film, Everest, give for risking their lives to spend a few seconds at the top of the world. “Because it’s there,” says one. “I have kids. If they see that a regular guy can follow impossible dreams, maybe they’ll do the same”, explains another. It’s the pinnacle of humankind’s insatiable desire to conquer nature, to bend her to our will. But, this beast can only be conquered if she lets you.
In this feature film Icelandic director, Baltasar Kormákur, tells the fateful true story of two expeditions, led by rival professional moutaineers, who attempt to summit on the 10th of May 1996. On the one side is the impulsive, hotshot, original hipster American, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), and on the other is the humble, dedicated New Zealander, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), who leaves behind a pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightley), to make dreams come true. Rob’s team includes the cocky, Texan doctor, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), journalist John Krakauer (Michael Kelly), and Japanese climber Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has conquered six of the world’s seven biggest peaks, and now wants to complete the tally.
It’s an exercise in insanity. As Rob tells his team: “You, my friends, are following in the very footsteps of history; something beyond the power of words to describe. Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747.Our bodies will be literally dying. Everest is another beast altogether.”
The climb starts well, but the day before the final ascent a freak storm hits. At first it appears like the team won’t be able to summit. When the weather clears the next day, Rob leads the team up. Some fall ill, some make it to the top. Flags are planted. Tears are shed. The zenith, the ultimate in human achievement completed. But, another super blizzard is on the way. The climbers try to hurry down, and an epic battle for survival ensues, a painful fight not everyone can win.
Everest is described as an action adventure-thriller, but is also about exploring the pure madness (yet inspiring) aspect of human nature that drives a person to strive for the impossible. The star of this show is the mountain herself. Much of the movie was filmed at Everest’s base camp, while of course CGI is used to help create the breathtaking shots of never-ending crevasses, hellish peaks, and sheer drops. It is well worth watching the film in IMAX 3D, which made my head spin with vertigo. This ice desert shown on a larger-than-life screen overwhelms, and I could almost see my breath fogging up in front of me. This is the closest most of us will come to the menacing colossus of Everest, and the film is a surreal and visceral experience.
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson
Rating: 4 out of 5
South African release date: 18 September 2015.