A year ago I had packed my bags for Nepal on a trekking expedition in the Himalayas. I trained three months for the gruelling climb, sweating at gym, losing all the belly fat and packing on muscle and stamina, pumping the body with proteins, acclimatizing my lungs with reduced oxygen intake.
Upon reaching Nepal and getting my first glimpse of the majestic Himalayas, I hauled my 40 litre backpack and began my ascent. Six hours into the trek, my body told me something curious – ‘lol bro, tumse na ho payega’. Those three months of training hadn’t been enough. I was on the verge of tears, straining under the backpack’s weight, with a severely bruised ego.
But then I looked up towards a snowy peak, and somehow the desire to reach there outweighed my ego. For the next seven days, I slogged, groaned, gritted my teeth, crawled, and even sobbed a few times, but when I reached the destination, the view made it all worth it. Why did I do this trek? The answer is foggy – I just had to get to the top, I wanted to do it.
Everest, the new film from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur captures this need for a human being to scale an impossibly high mountain, for no clear reason but a simple want to do it. What is life, if you don’t achieve something extraordinary? Your existence is meaningless if you don’t go to a place on Earth where almost nobody has ventured to. It doesn’t even matter if life relinquishes you, because doing something so extraordinary, against all odds adds more meaning to your existence than anything you’d do back home at work.
Director Kormakur delivers this message with a stellar cast but albeit with very little room to make it more impactful. Because of which, Everest feels half an hour too short – all of the runtime is dedicated to the action spectacle and dizzying shots of the perils of climbing the highest mountain in the world. The character development takes a back seat, even though there are so many characters in the film.
In 1996 Rob Hall Kiwi (Clarke) leads a commercial expedition that ferries people to the top of the Everest. We follow his group (Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Clive Standen, Chike Chan and others) through Nepal towards the base camp, and their fateful encounter with a monstrous storm. Things go horribly wrong, and the film flits between the expedition members struggling to stay alive in the storm, and the base camp members (Emily Watson) trying to radio them. The film being based on a true story renders heartbreak, and it’s scary to think that the bodies of some of those people are still up on the Everest, preserved intact by the snow.
The action spectacle is severely jaw dropping on a giant IMAX screen, because it doesn’t follow the disaster movie formula. These people aren’t cartoonish action heroes dodging avalanches like Stallone (Cliffhanger) or Chris O Donnell (Vertical Limit). They’re like you and me, consumed by the idea to reach the unknown and barely moving a finger when the snow swallows them. One of the characters jumps off to his death, not only to save the another guy harnessed to his rope, but also because he has reached the Everest peak and has realized that he has seen everything in life – it’s chilling. One interesting scene has a character posing the quintessential question – why are they climbing the Everest, which leads to the same aforementioned foggy answers.
It becomes unfortunate that we never learn much about the characters in the film. The final frame shows photographs of the people on whom the people in the film are based on, but we never know who is who – because such little time is spent on character development. Even Jake Gyllenhaal shows up at bits and spurts to add more star power to the film than drama. Kormakur makes an unfortunate decision to get the audience to identify the characters by making them constantly pull off their masks to mouth dialogue. Someone in a storm on the Everest taking off their mask transcends stupidity and also instant frostbite. It remains to be seen if Kormakur bowed down to the studio’s decision to trim things down to just the ‘action bits’, because his excellent 2012 film The Deep was more about a character who survived an epic death defying real life journey, than the journey itself.
There isn’t a single line of corny dialogue, which is a far cry from blockbuster Hollywood. The acting is universally excellent, with Clarke continuing to impress with his range and a New Zealand twang that never feels out of place. Brolin goes against his type in a role that isn’t very heroic – one scene has him screaming in fear while dangling from a flimsy ladder that connects two cliffs.
It speaks volumes that climbing the Everest has now become increasingly easy and popular for rich folks to follow their whims and fancies. You don’t need to get into the existentialist consequences of that to appreciate this film though. If anything, it’ll only make you pack your bags and head out to Nepal, but with a gentle reminder to train harder at the gym.