17 September 2015 | CleveMan66
"Meru" doesn't need to dramatize its mountain climbing story - it takes us there.
Be careful around the shark's fin. It's a warning that swimmers might utter – and mountain climbers too. The Shark's Fin is the most challenging route up the most challenging of the three peaks of Meru, which is part of the Himalayas of northern India. The documentary "Meru" (R, 1:27) traces two separate attempts by a trio of climbers trying to be the first to reach the top of Meru Peak, via the Shark's Fin.
Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk are three of the most famous mountain climbers in the world, largely for their experiences on Meru Peak. Anker had become famous for his climbs in Antarctica and the Himalayas, one of which led to his discovery of 1920s' climber George Mallory's body on Mount Everest. Jimmy Chin had made a name for himself as both a climber and videographer who documented his climbs, as well as the expeditions of others. Anker and Chin were climbing partners for years when they took on Ozturk, a young but accomplished climber, for their 2008 expedition up the Shark's Fin.
This film tells us about and shows us the trio's 2008 and 2011 Meru expeditions and the momentous events in between. Heading up the mountain with them in 2008, we learn about why the Shark's Fin is uniquely challenging, uniquely dangerous and an irresistible goal for serious climbers like these. When the men come heartbreakingly close to reaching their goal, but have to turn back, we feel for them, even as we hear them talking about making another attempt. Their bodies and minds have to recover before they go back to India to try again, and life has to be lived. There are other climbs and other jobs for each of the three men to do while they plan their second trip to the Shark's Fin. When two of the three men have near-death experiences on separate occasions, serious questions arise. Who will make up the team on a second attempt? Given what's happened, can they succeed this time? Will they? "Meru" uses interviews with the trio to explain how they got together and describe their experiences on Meru. Anker's friend and fellow climber, Jon Krakauer, who wrote "Into Thin Air" (which was made into the 2015 film "Everest") also sits for an interview which sheds a significant amount of light on the story of the three Shark's Fin climbers, their expeditions, and mountain climbing in general. Most of "Meru", however, is made up of video shot by Chin and Ozturk on Meru Peak. The interview clips are succinct and informative, but it's the on-site video which gives this documentary its drama and its immediacy. I would have liked to hear more about what makes them do what they do and a bit of what happened in each of their lives after their second attempt to climb the Shark's Fin, but few criticisms can take much away from this remarkable film – one of the most fascinating and engaging documentaries of 2015. "A-"