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Going in to “Everest,” I think it’s important to remember that this is a disaster movie, based on a real disaster. A lot of people are going to die before the credits roll, and they’re not going to be second-rate, disposable characters like in a lot of fake disaster movies.

It’s important to remember this because director Baltasar Kormakur is going to try to convince you that this is a different kind of movie. The first half is almost entirely absent of the kind of heavy foreshadowing and ominous music usually present in disaster movies. There are no brilliant scientists predicting the disaster and being ignored. Nothing of that sort. Instead, we are introduced to one likable, inspiring character after another. Jason Clarke plays the lead guide, and Keira Knightley is his pregnant wife back home. John Hawkes is the mailman who is making his second attempt at Everest, carrying a flag for the summit given to him by elementary schoolers back home. Yasuko Numba is a 47-year-old Japanese housewife who has already summited six of the world’s highest peaks. And Josh Brolin is an arrogant Texas millionaire whose wife (Robin Wright) warned him she’d divorce him if he climbed one more mountain. Guess who’s still alive at the end?

The film gracefully packs a lot of information into the first hour, not just introducing the characters, but filling us in on the culture of extreme mountaineering, the way the sport has changed in recent years, and the challenges that has introduced to an already challenging expedition. What used to be the terrain of only the best professional climbers has become a sort of high-end adventure tourist draw, attracting millionaire tycoons looking for the ultimate high(literally.) It’s also become a lucrative business, which means guides like Clarke are motivated to take extra risks to get these tourists to the summit, because not getting there is bad for business. On this particular trip, that motivation is enhanced by the presence of John Krakauer (played by Michael Kelly,) who is writing a high-profile article for “Outside” magazine. (Krakauer has said that a lot of what happens in this movie isn’t accurate, but he has agreed that his presence on the trip caused the guides to take extra risks.)

The first half of the film is truly uplifting – there’s plenty here about the triumph of the human spirit, lots of characters to root for, and the SFX department makes Everest truly awe-inspiring. But this is not a film about the triumph of the human spirit, this is a film about hubris and tragedy. When Kormakur drops the hammer, it falls hard. “Everest” lifts us up just to ultimately drop us a greater distance. I left the theater feeling kicked in the gut, but knowing I had seen a very well-made movie all the same.

Kormakur is intentionally sending up other disaster movies.  Movies like “San Andreas” function like a two hour crash course in Darwinism. The beautiful, smart, good, resourceful people will be the one who survive, especially if they have reproduced. The ugly, dumb, and morally defective people will die without passing on their genes. Kormakur is poking at that in “Everest,” showing us good people — decent, intelligent, moral people — who die anyway. There is no margin for error, and no safety net.  This is highlighted with the way deaths are filmed.  They are not melodramatic, or even dramatic.  People simply slip off the screen, in ways that we know they are never coming back.

In that way, “Everest” is a lot like “All is Lost.” Though it wasn’t obvious on first view, the more I read about that movie, the more I learned it was about a guy who really had no business trying to sail around the world solo. He didn’t have the skills or experience. And yet Robert Redford plays him as resourceful, intelligent, and determined.  But in that situation, a small error of judgment was disastrous.  It’s the same situation here. Jason Clarke’s character is thoughtful, cautious, and careful. He dies anyway.  I think the both movies are about the frailty of human beings in contrast to the impersonal brutality of nature. We think we’ve conquered nature; we haven’t. Disaster movies reassure us that the human spirit will triumph over the worst that weather and earth can throw at us; it can’t. This is a sobering reality.




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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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