(M) Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
Starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal

by Mark Hadley

George Herbert Mallory, the legendary British climber who died scaling the world’s highest mountain was asked, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” He famously replied, “Because it’s there.” My mountain climbing friends regularly use a variation of the same quote. Half way up cliffs they often ask each other, “Why do we climb mountains?” And the answer comes back, “Because we’re not all there.” Together these lines summarise the determination and lunacy required to pit yourself against peaks that reach to the top of the world. Both qualities are on display in a new film about the men who dare to challenge Mount Everest.

Everest deserves the cliché ‘star-studded’ with a cast swelled by A-listers like Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Josh Brolin and Sam Worthington. Its story can be summarized in a sentence: 34 climbers who tackle the summit of Everest find their return journey through the heart of a freak storm will prove their greatest challenge of all. Everest is based on the true story of the ‘1996 Mount Everest Disaster’ during which eight people from various expeditions succumbed to the elements due to a combination of crowded routes, poor planning and naked ambition.

The subsequent investigation into the 1996 disaster concluded that the commercialization of the Everest played a significant part in the tragedy. The sheer number of inexperienced climbers on the peak that day led to a deadly slow-down and poor decisions. Everest the film acknowledges this tourism mentality in the bravado that accompanies guides’ descriptions of the days ahead:

“You, my friends, are following in the very footsteps of history – something beyond the power of words to describe. Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747. Our bodies will literally be dying.”

However a more humble tone emerges when the dying literally begins.

The philosophical focus of the film is the tension arising between those who celebrate the ‘triumph of the human spirit’ and those who recognize we are merely flesh and blood. Everest records many heroic moments, and many allowances are made for the men and women who balanced their lives against the danger. But it’s worth remembering even as we celebrate their survival that we don’t draw our meaning from our ability to endure or overcome. As inspiring as elements of Everest can be the Bible reminds us:

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.1

God did not make mountains to provide human beings with the opportunity to display how great they are. Everest is a testament to His power, not ours.

1 Psalm 33:16, NIV

This review originally appeared in Pipeline magazine. Click here for more Pipeline.