It'll cure you of a hunger to mountain climb.
Director: Nick Ryan
Screenplay: Mark Monroe (The Tillman Story, The Cove)
Cast: Christine Barnes, Hoselito Bite
Runtime: 95 min.
by John DeSando
“He discovers things about his own body and mind that he had almost forgotten in the day-to-day, year-to-year routine of living.” James Ramsey Ullman, High Conquest.
I don’t know about you, but if I were approaching the “death zone” while mountain climbing, I’d turn back. However, you can bet the heroes of the documentary, The Summit, hiking the world’s second biggest and most difficult mountain (it defeats 1 out of every 4 climbers), K2, had no such thoughts. The Summit won the Sundance World Cinema documentary award this year.
More interesting than the physical exploits is the rationale for doing such a dangerous sport in the first place. Yet, such psychoanalyzing is not a matter for The Summit, a thrilling doc long on the difficult climb and more difficult decisions while fates are decided in sometimes inscrutable and random ways. It’s short on the motivation, which pretty much is accepted these days as, “because it’s there.”
Eleven climbers of 25 lost their lives that day in 2008 without an adequate explanation for any of the deaths. However this thesis is proven once more: Most lives in climbing are lost on the descent. The film has a fragmented, multiple-points-of-view (think of a climbing Rashomon) approach that cuts among the several players and history while featuring a couple of the more charismatic climbers, especially Ger McDonnell, whose death is the most difficult to understand even as he’s touted for his alleged attempt to save 3 Korean climbers.
This discursive storytelling can be confusing while it saps the thrust of the inherently intriguing story. The many re-enactments drain the film of its immediate “what-the” doc impact. The film retains some of the awe we all feel when in the presence of such a manifestation of Nature’s power:
“You do not laugh when you look at the mountains, or when you look at the sea.” Lafcadio Hearn
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com