It may surprise you a little that I am doing the Everest movie review. I watch movies infrequently and I hardly ever ‘review’ them, if I may call my random writing a review. But Everest is based on the tragedy that occurred on the mountain in 1996. And much before the movie was made I read two books on it, Into Thin Air and The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest. Both of them are make for compelling reading. They are about the same event and yet they offer such different perspectives. I enjoyed the movie much more because I had read the books.
Everest released world wide in this week and Seshadri, Chhavi and I went to watch the movie yesterday. I thought it was based on Into Thin Air but I realized they take into account the various perspectives. It is a big plus for the movie. Director Baltasar Kormakur in his Everest has made an immensely watchable movie supported by an able star cast.
If you have not read about the 1996 disaster and plan to watch the movie before reading anything you can stop reading this review now as it has spoilers.
The movie is about the disaster that unfolded on Everest on May 10, 1996. There were two large guided expeditions up the mountains led by Rob Hall (Adventure Consultants) and Scott Fischer (Mountain Madness). On Hall’s expedition was a journalist from the Outside magazine Jon Krakauer. Some say his presence added to the pressure to succeed at any cost but the other team too had a journalist. So I believe it is a bit unfair to single out Krakauer.
The movie portrays the world of guided expeditions brilliantly. Whether we agree with the philosophy of guided expeditions to Everest is another matter. On these guided expeditions clients paid (in 1996) up to 65,000 dollars to be guided up to the Everest. The presence of so many teams going to the summit on the same day, the pressure not being able to say no to a client, the level of climbing experience of the customers, all come into the play. For example Doug Hansen was ambling around much after the cut off time for the summit but Hall agrees to go with him to the summit, because he could not say no to him!
There are many controversies around the event and one of the most well known is between Jon Krakauer and Anatoli Boukreev leading to the publication of the rebuttal by Boukreev in his book ‘The Climb’. Boukreev was a guide with Fischer’s expedition ‘Mountain Madness.’ The movie steers away from them and manages to strike a balance between various accounts. This once again works splendidly for the movie.
The movie starts at people departing for Kathmandu, trekking up to the Everest Base Camp and then preparing for the climb. It then devotes the entire second half to the time when disaster strikes in the form of a fierce storm at the higher regions of Everest.
The stars have done justice to their roles. Jason Clark plays Rob hall, Jake Gyllenhaal plays the playful Scott Fischer and Kiera Nightly as Jan Hall. For me the most impressive was Emily Watson as her role of base camp manager Helen Wilton.
You will enjoy the movie even if you are not mad about mountains. And when you come across a scene which feels unrealistic, remember that is based on true accounts! However improbable some of the things feel they happened to real people!
My daughter asked me after the movie, “mama so what is the moral of the story?” This is what I said-
अपने औकत से ऊँचा पहाड़ नहीं चड़ना चाहिए। जब टीम लीडर बोले कि लौट चलो तो लौट जाना चाहिए। And as they said in the movie, “The mountain has the last word!”
For those of you who don’t read Hindi- We should not climb a mountain that is beyond us. When the team leader says we need to turn back, we turn back!
Do go and watch the movie Everest.
The opening chapter of the book is called ‘Dead Man Moving’. And if someone knows about death in the mountains it is Joe Simpson. He was left for dead in Peru and yet he came back to tell the tale. However that is the story Touching The Void deals with.
In Dark Shadows Falling Simpson moves his attention to the Everest region and to a large extent the present day climbing ethos which includes guided expeditions. So far you can turn back and tell me that there are countless other books that talk about the same. I agree but this one has a section on the trekking culture in the region and that surely got me puzzled. Also Simpson asks hard questions about present day climbing, particularly the guided ones.
But let me go back to the first chapter. It talks about South Col which is high up on Mount Everest. A climber is dying about 30 meters from a well stocked tent. It could have been any climber I am sure but he was an Indian. What do you think would happen? That people from the tent would go out and get him in? Offer him comfort? Hold his hand? Give him water? Well nothing of that sort happened. No body came out of the tent and offered anything to a dying man. Simpson brings in his own near death experience to say that he fought so hard to live because he didn’t want to die alone.
He then goes on to talk about the summit at any cost culture and wonders why are people climbing the Everest? There are many who could do it only via guided expeditions. On their own they do not have the ability to climb the mountain. For them the route has to be prepared, the tents pitched, oxygen used and a guide to help them through. And then there are those who climb in small teams, rely on each-other and climb without oxygen.
Everest Base Camp, Nepal
So is it that the mountain belongs to one group and the commercial groups are impostors? Is the modern climbing community so goal obsessed that human values have taken a backseat? Human values like offering comfort to a dying person no longer seem to be universal. If it affects the summit chances is it fine to leave someone dying without a crumb of comfort?
These are some of the questions that Simpson raises. Of course there are no easy answers offered. But the section that disturbed me most was the section on trekkers and their response to crisis. I have trekked in the Everest as well as the Annapurna region and I was shocked to read his account of trekkers in Chapter 6. In 1995 November a freak blizzard hit the Annapurna region. It looks like trekkers left their guides and local staff in tough conditions to fend for themselves and in some cases eventually die! He also mentions trekkers disobeying their guides in spite of hardly knowing anything about the region.
I can to an extent understand aggressive behavior from mountaineers as theirs is a high stake game. But trekkers? I mean what is there in a trek? Anyone who is determined or marginally fit can trek. So I was really shocked to read of accounts where people disregarded horrible weather to put lives at risk, all for a trek!
In the end he asks a very pertinent question- Just because a trek or a climb has been paid for, is there any guarantee that it will happen? I mistakenly thought everyone knew the answer! Dark Shadows Falling is a compelling book about modern day climbing ethos or the lack of it. And if you are a mere trekker like me you should definitely read chapter 6.
I started my India travel blog, Travel Tales from India in 2005. In 2016 I realized Travel Tales from India and Abroad better reflected my writings. I love to walk and ride in metros around the world. I have not been everywhere, I am not even close, but it is on my list. I also quit my job as a professor in 2015, it was a happening year! I did a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur ages ago!
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