‘Because it’s there!’
This echoing of George Mallory’s infamous reason for climbing Mount Everest comes at a key moment in the film, when journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks his fellow climbing companions why they are spending tens of thousands of dollars and risking their lives to get to the summit. Although a few can offer further insight – to inspire, to escape – Mallory’s words appear sufficient reason for the rest. A gang of bearded mavericks in puffy jackets trying to get to the top of the world.
Unfortunately for them, they chose to climb in 1996, which became the mountain’s deadliest climbing season (until the twin tragedies of 2014 and 2015). Based on a true story, Everest illustrates how a gripping mountain thriller can be created without Vertical Limit-esque falls; in reality it’s the more mundane threats of exhaustion, confusion and delirium which can kill in the death zone. Led by pioneering guides Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), it depicts a pivotal time when competing commercial expeditions were becoming a reality, and the ensuing conflict caused by so many people being on the mountain at the same time. Bumper-to-bumper queues only added to the danger, and challenges the idea of paying clients ‘conquering’ the mountain.
Standard criticisms can be levied at Hollywood for choosing to focus on the stories of white men, with most female and Nepalese characters somewhat forced into the background. On the other hand, it’s hard not to be awed by the striking scenery – if ever there was a film to watch in 3D, it’s Everest. Director Baltasar Kormákur combines nauseating overhead shots with hyper-dramatic fly-bys, showing climbers reduced to tiny dots on immense mountain slopes. With the actual Mount Everest serving as a backdrop, we are gifted a true sense of scale to understand the brutal demands of trying to summit the world’s highest mountain.