Like most films based on real-life events, Everest has to balance between staying true to the story and being entertaining enough to keep the audience’s attention. When most such pictures have to add action, drama or forced conflict between characters, Everest remains more subtle. Instead, the film focuses on survival in an impossible situation and raises an interesting question. Namely, the movie tries to clarify what drives some people to risk their lives, wellbeing of their families and lives of other individuals for illusive goals, such as reaching the peak of Mount Everest.
Everest, directed by Baltasar Kormakur, is a drama based on actual events. The film depicts an infamous tragedy, which happened when a group of climbers was caught by a storm during their descent after reaching the peak of Mount Everest. As a result, four people died and others got serious frostbites. There is a surprising amount of detail in depicting the technical aspects of climbing the mountain, which makes the film even more authentic. It is important to note how procedural the climbing the mountain is depicted in the film. The process does not look like a heroic overcoming but rather a struggle to survive. The scene of the group reaching the peak is purposefully downplayed as it is directly followed by intense survival scenes. The film avoids overdramatizing the events, unlike many other pictures based on real-life tragedies. The directors avoid bringing forward any heroes or pointing fingers at who was to blame for the consequences. The scenes depicting the deaths of the main characters are treated without any pathos: they look casual, sometimes even darkly ironic. As death is not a rare occasion in such a dangerous place, the foreshadowing of a tragic outcome is present throughout the whole film. The emphasis is made not on the deaths themselves but their inevitability. Thus, the most emotional scene in the film is Rob Hall’s (Jason Clarke) conversation with his wife (Keira Knightley) on the satellite phone, knowing he probably will not survive the descent (Barnes, Bevan, Chasin, & Kormakur, 2015). In other words, climbing the mountain is shown not as an adventure but as a risky and thankless enterprise.
Watching the film, one cannot help but wonder what drives these serious wealthy people to risk their lives just for climbing the famous mountain. The movie does not provide definitive answers, instead giving the characters the possibility to explain their motives. At one point of the film, the heroes discuss the reasons why each of them decided to try and conquer the mountain. The answers they give are ambiguous, to say the least. Most notably, Doug Hansen (John Hawks) answers, that he is doing this because he can, and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) explains that he feels depressed at home, while only climbing the mountain makes him happy. The characters of the film are driven by their ambitions, their inner conflicts; they think that conquering the mountain can give some importance to their lives. All these circumstances are not as important when they face the catastrophic storm. In earlier scenes, the director uses juxtaposition showing the pans of beautiful natural scenery against the overall dark mood of the film, proving that people are helpless when facing the forces of nature. Another important theme of the film is criticizing the commercialization of nature. In the opening scenes, the audience can see that the market of unprofessional climbers, who try to climb, the mountain is overcrowded, and this can inevitably lead to casualties. The tragic events of the film can be interpreted as nature’s symbolic warning to people, who try to turn its conquering into a commercialized attraction. In addition, one of the strongest elements of the film is its visuals. The real life footage of the actors climbing the mountain, the CGI, and the episodes filmed on the sets are seamlessly edited together; thus, everything looks very believable. The authenticity of the film’s plot and emotional stance was necessary to maintain its overall documentary atmosphere.
Most of the casting choices in the film work effectively. The lead characters are played by recognizable and charismatic actors which makes it easy for the audience to follow them and adore them. Among the characters, Beck Weathers is the most ambiguous. This is not only because he is the most conflicting of the group, and sometimes even unsympathetic, but also because his motivation is rather complex. Additionally, some parts of the film are depicted through his eyes, including a terrifying and intense scene where the group leaves him behind, not knowing that Beck is still alive. Another character that should be mentioned is the nature itself, represented by the mountain, which is shown as beautiful and merciless at the same time. The film is not without its faults. In particular, the wives of the main characters are rather one-dimensional, despite being played by great actresses. Their only purpose in the movie is to create a contrast between the importance of family and absurd desire of their husbands to challenge the forces of nature.
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Despite the minor shortcomings, the film works both as a shocking true story and as an intense survival thriller. If one of the goals of the picture was to turn as many viewers away from climbing dangerous mountains, the creators of the drama succeeded. The conquering of the Everest is shown as a dangerous and unpleasant process rather than a heroic adventure.