So I just told you about a Werner Herzog documentary that didn’t really work. “To the Limit” is a step down from that — it’s a film that wants to be a Werner Herzog documentary, but can’t really figure out how to be. By that I mean it wants to deal with its subject matter in a way that causes you to reflect on deeper questions than the subject itself, but doesn’t really manage to say anything worthy of reflection.
On the surface -and under the surface — it’s the story of the Huber brothers, world class rock climbers who want to set the record for the fastest ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. They train and try, but one of them (most of the time I couldn’t tell them apart) gets hurt, so they quit, vowing to come back next year, and then later they go to Patagonia on a poorly explained adventure that also doesn’t work out, and then they go back to Yosemite and… I won’t give away the ending.
I am a rock climber, though not a very good one, so I expected to find some added interest in this film – and perhaps I did, it’s hard to know. The kind of climbing these guys do is really different than anything I’ve ever done – far more dangerous, for one thing, and more dependent on gear. It’s films like this that make moms think I’m going to kill their children when I offer to take them climbing with me. Note to all moms out there: we won’t be speed climbing. Not even a little bit.
Like a Herzog documentary, filmmaker Pepe Danquart peppers his film with interviews, clearly asking the climbers to wax philosophic about their lives, relationships, fears, etc. The Hubert brothers, at least, are honest, and often engagingly transparent; we learn a bit about the sibling rivalry that both challenges and inspires them. But when the camera veers off to their climbing partners (or whoever these other guys are that get interviewed; it’s never explained) the philosophizing takes on bumper sticker porportions. Face your Fears. Live Your Dreams. Follow Your Passions. etc. etc.