6 October 2015 | ericjams
A Rousing Answer to the Question: Why do They Climb?
The inherent drama of men and mountains has spurred in recent years a glut of TV and film that has blossomed with the technological advancements of our time and the "look at me" attitude pervading society so that everyone with a Go-Pro can film their adventures for the world to see. From Youtube channels of independent climbers filming their routes to big money TV shows that bring the adventurers' lives to our living rooms, the world of mountain climbing and adventure sports in general seems caught in contradictions. Always underlying the contradictions is the simple question of why? Do these individuals risk life and limb for their fame, for sponsors, for a TV deal or out of a unique personal desire and will that drives them into the wild.
The British climber George Mallory who died while attempting Everest back in the 1920s famously responded to the question of Why? with "because it is there". For the next 100 years, many climbers have tried to give better answers, and in Meru, we have a compelling combination of narrative and visual imagery that may result in the best answer of all.
The narrative stands apart from other films and documentaries in that it is not completely linear and veers off course to give the viewers appropriate back stories to inject meaning and under currents to the climbers' motivations. You get to know the climbers as people, and with that understanding, I think it becomes easier for anyone, including people who have never set foot on a snowy ledge, to understand why these people climb mountains.
The technical climbing is filmed by Jimmy Chin (both climber and film director) in a way that I have simply never seen before. As a climbing enthusiast, the shots of these guys on the walls of ice and rock are astounding, gut-wrenching and for me, completely inspiring. The organic relationship of the climbing team, their histories and ultimately their trials on the snow and rock of Meru expand on many common mountaineering themes - mentors, sponsors, risk analysis and contemplating death both yours and your friends.
Jon Krakauer is not my favorite voice in this world, but he is a voice that is adept at translating the mountaineering world to laymen, and his role in this film is served well. In the end, I strongly recommend this film for everyone. For those that can understand the motivation to be the first to stand atop a peak, you will not be disappointed. For those that can not understand the motivation, you might walk away finally getting it.