Whether we’re exploring pitch-black ocean depths, or the tallest mount peaks, mankind’s curiosity will always put us at odds with Mother Nature’s imposing dominance. There’s beauty amidst her furious chaos, and our arrogant need to test her limits will always give us breathtaking stories about the human spirit. But Everest isn’t just about defying the odds – it doubles as dramatic warning.
Based on true events, we meet a team of private climbers who make it their mission to conquer Earth’s highest surface by challenging conditions that our bodies simply weren’t engineered to handle. Climbers laugh in the face of death when reaching heights reserved only for compressed airplane travel. Yet, people still paid – handsomely – to be one of the lucky few who could hopefully boast about beating Everest. It’s reminiscent of a heroic knight bragging about slaying their kingdom’s fiercest dragon, but the problem is, sometimes the dragon fights back, and when it does, boy is she vicious.
Jason Clarke plays famed New Zealand climber Rob Hall, the owner of an expedition guiding company called Adventure Consultants. Gearing up for another tour, Hall sets out to summit Mount Everest with a small group of clients, aiming for May 10th, 1996 as their touch date. All seems to be progressing according to plan, until the final summit run.
A few minor setbacks delay Hall’s team, which had absorbed Scott Fischer’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) Mountain Madness group in an effort to avoid congestion on the mountain. After getting the last man to the peak of Mount Everest, Hall’s team encounters a wicked, raging blizzard that turns their descent into an icy Hell, leaving most climbers to fend for themselves. No one has more of a reason to live than soon-to-be father Rob Hall, but it’s his job to make sure every client makes it safely down the mountain – a task that Mother Nature makes damn near impossible.
Whether it be an earthquake, tornado, or any other kind of disaster, nothing puts humanity in its insignificant place like nature’s dominating glory. Most natural disaster films are able to focus on the carnage of violent natural outbursts, but the best of these films are able to strike a balance between wide-eyed wonder and heartbreaking despair.
Everest is such a film, taking us to the tip of planet Earth, right before trapping us in a snowy tomb along with some of Rob’s team. Director Baltasar Kormákur captures Mount Everest for the devilish behemoth she is, while writers William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy highlight the utter tragedy that befell Mount Everest in 1996. Green-screens and sound stages recreate the snowy passes that exist around Mount Everest’s trails, but it’s Kormákur’s scenic tracking shots that make us feel the intensity of every rigid step towards elevated glory – marking the physical rebuilding of Everest as a visual success.
Stellar performances from Everest‘s cast aid in respectfully recounting the life of Rob Hall, none better than Jason Clarke. As Hall, he’s a tender daredevil who cares only about his client’s safety, unlike Gyllenhaal’s more radical approach as Scott Fischer. The two play well together and promote an inherent bond amongst true outdoors adventurers, sharing sweet moments of camaraderie with the likes of Michael Kelly, Martin Henderson, John Hawkes, and Josh Brolin (as a rambunctious Texan).
Some of the best moments revolve around writer Jon Krakauer’s (Kelly) burning desire to know why these people risk their lives for the climb, as the actors all show a keen understanding that it isn’t about fame, riches, or escape, but about pushing the boundaries of human will. In order for Everest to work, everyone had to show a respect for the mountain, no matter how confident their characters is. This realistic acceptance shines through, assuring each actor’s convincing transformation into a survivalist pioneer.
Despite, however, an understanding that a trip up Mount Everest could easily end in death, Kormákur also instates an important underlying theme fueled by the arrogance of man. Everything that goes wrong on Hall’s ascent is triggered by red-flag events, from the ropes not being re-strung in the final stretch, to Hall’s approval of Doug’s post-curfew ascent.
Hall continually shrugs off hiccups that wouldn’t normally mean a thing, but with a monumental blizzard approaching, every second counts – and he ignores that. It’s in our nature to think we’re invincible, and it’s Mother Nature’s job to remind us otherwise through brutally resonant methods. There’s a consequence to be paid for arrogance, and Everest is a cold reminder of humanity’s place in this fragile ecosystem.
Everest has the enlightening power to floor our senses with a remarkable view from high atop our planet’s highest outlook, filling us with an inspirational hope, then tear us down into a realm of absolute nothingness without warning. But it’s not an overly sad or depressing film, and thankfully, it’s more about the lives these modern-day explorers led, and more importantly, their unstoppable drive. Without human curiosity and a sense of adventure, we’d never have discovered new lands, or pushed the boundaries of science, or discovered the vast majority of artistry that Earth possesses. Kormákur’s film is a testament to each climber’s strength, and their willingness to defy the odds.
Maybe a life well-lived isn’t measured in stretches of time, but the quality of how you spent every precious second you have – and if that’s the case, Rob Hall lived a life ten times longer than you or I might ever do. That, while coming with a warning, is the inspirational reminder we sometimes need. Maybe start a little smaller than conquering Mount Everest, though…
Everest is a harrowing cinematic experience that scales the many highs and lows of natural disaster films, jarring our emotions with each step on this slippery trail.