It's just another climb. Nothing to worry over.
It's true that ever since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first broke through to Mount Everest's peak back in 1953, more than 200 people have died attempting to duplicate the feat. But, hey, this is a new day. The death rate in the 1990s hovers just above 5%. The equipment's better. Most of the mountain is roped. Experienced guides and surefooted Sherpas are successfully making this climb all the time. And New Zealand-based guide Rob Hall is one of the best at the job.
Now, Rob would rather not have to leave his lovely and very pregnant wife, Jan, at home alone. Again. But she's a trooper. She knows this is Rob's business, and she understands that May is the best and safest month to make the famed ascent.
Besides, Rob's got a good group to take up this go-round. The experienced climbers include a hard-driving Texas doc, a blue-collar postal worker (making his second attempt) and a fortysomething Japanese woman who's already climbed the six other major peaks in the world. It's a solid crew. Oh, and there's a journalist who'll be coming along as well. A good write-up from him could make Rob's operation "sweet as" for some time to come.
As every experienced and level-headed guide would, though, Rob still points out the dangers—to his clients and to himself. The human body isn't made to function at the cruising altitude of a 747, after all. "Your bodies will literally be dying," he tells the team.
OK. They're still game to go. So Rob will see them right. They'll prep for a good 40 days for this trip¬—climbing up and back between base camps, acclimating their bodies. Then they'll shoot for the peak. They'll brave the tortures of this icy chunk of rock, squint through frosty storms, suck on bottled oxygen and drag themselves to the very top of the world. It'll be another choice climb.
Like I said. Nothing to fret about.
Of course, even a pro like Rob can sometimes forget that reaching the peak is really only the halfway point. Then there's the problem of getting back down.
There's no question that Rob and Jan are a loving couple, dedicated to each other. They speak repeatedly of their love and their soon-to-be-born child. And as for that Texas physician, in spite of Beck making some bad choices, his wife proves to be a devoted and loving spouse, moving heaven and earth to facilitate her husband's rescue. (You knew they'd need rescuing up there, didn't you?) Beck reveals that his choice to climb Everest was a selfish and deceitful one—especially since he lied to his wife about going. But when all seems lost, it's his visions of his family that drive him to struggle on (almost as though he might redeem himself by doing the tough work of surviving). Doug (the postal worker) says he struggles to climb mountains to inspire kids back home with the idea that an ordinary person can reach for extraordinary goals.
Once the storm blows in, threatening the lives of everyone in the expedition, a number of people leap into action to try to save as many as possible. They brave the elements at great peril to themselves. A helicopter pilot risks crashing to save an injured man. And Rob refuses to leave a struggling climber, ultimately sacrificing himself in the process.
Rob's group visits a Tibetan monastery built at 12,000 feet. They and the Sherpas participate in a brief prayer-like ritual before climbing. When one of the climbers staggers to the Mount Everest peak, she kneels and says a brief prayer.
We never see anything truly gory, but the peril of the mountainside disaster and the agonies on display still carry a certain gruesome feel. During a vicious, lashing ice storm, people are quite literally tortured by the physically debilitating effects of cold, elevation and oxygen deprivation. Rob had previously listed some of the ill effects that climbers can suffer … and indeed we see most of them take place, from a swollen-brain form of insanity to a pulmonary edema that causes people to vomit blood.
Someone dangles over a seemingly bottomless crevice. Several fall from high precipices. People crumple over and freeze to death. (We're told that the bodies of the fallen are never removed from the mountain because of the extreme difficulty of doing so.) Others are hit with large sliding chunks of ice. A man's nose and fingers burn black with frostbite.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Some of the guides and clients drink beer and hard liquor while in the lowest base camp. A group leader named Scott pushes his boozing beyond what the rest do, appearing a bit inebriated. We see him also inject himself with a drug used for elevation acclimation.
Other Negative Elements
This cling-to-a-cliff disaster pic is based on the real-life 1996 tragedy chronicled in Jon Krakauer's bestseller Into Thin Air. It's beautifully shot, and so realistic in its wind-whipped peril and frozen-chasms-dropping-into-oblivion effects that viewers will likely be clenching and unclenching their theater seat armrests just to assure themselves that they're still solidly anchored. (Not to mention keeping the frostbite at bay.)
Here you will find moments of heroism mixed with scenes of despair and icy, blackened-flesh death. It's not a cheery tale. There's no real "woo-hoo!" moment by film's end. It's quite simply a well-acted, documentary-like chronicling. A pic that uses its first half to hail the potential of a great mountain-climbing adventure, and its second to point out how completely insane the idea was.
If you ascend those stadium theater steps looking for the big payoff that drives people to spend tens of thousands of dollars, abandon loved ones, brave skin-crisping temperatures, submit their bodies and minds to the torturous effects of extreme elevation and oxygen deprivation, and risk losing everything from fingers and toes to their very lives ... well, you'll be disappointed. No answers on that front. But you'll see plenty of pluck in the midst of all that. And you'll probably wish you had brought a coat.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jason Clarke as Rob Hall; Keira Knightley as Jan Arnold; Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers; Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer; Emily Watson as Helen Wilton; John Hawkes as Doug Hansen; Sam Worthington as Guy Cotter; Robin Wright as Peach Weathers
September 18, 2015
January 19, 2016