because it’s there
I discovered the tragedy portrayed in this movie through a Harvard Business School case on leaders’ decisions and their consequences. Luckily, our professor knows she’s first a human being and then a business professor and she wrapped up the discussion in a very human way: we can’t and shouldn’t judge what happened on May 10th, 1996 on top of the highest mountain in the world. Because we weren’t there and we cannot know for sure what happened. Even after reading Into Thin Air, the well-documented account of John Krakauer, there is no clear direction to point the finger at in search of someone to blame. The author himself admits unforgiveable mistakes he committed as a mountaineer, as a member of the team and as a human being. Too many people died and some miraculously survived on that day and the events are shrouded under a snow storm, lack of oxygen and the breathtaking environment on Everest.
What’s the Movie About
First of all, Everest is a visual tribute to the mountain itself. Director Baltasar Kormakur does a fabulous job at taking us in a place few of us will have the chance to experience. Story-wise, the movie tracks the arrival at Base Camp and the journey up to the top of 2 teams, each led by experienced mountain climbers: Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. Being the second adaptation made about the tragedy, this version tries to focus on something else than the previous one and chooses to highlight the differences of leadership between the two of them and the competition underlying. I feel this movie is going to work great being shown in a class at a business school: it offers enough clues and describes enough moments when mistakes were made, egos trumped life and blind eagerness denied returning home. I can only imagine – or just relive – the blunt discussions and the learnings extracted as metaphors for what’s happening in a board room. I had a heated debate with my better half after seeing the movie regarding the utility of the actions of the people featured in the film reflected on other people’s lives. I guess I should have argued they serve well for the high aspiring CEO of today. But that kind of detective look at what happened in May 1996 and the movie itself lack the emotion and the deep understanding of purely human stories. Indeed, it’s difficult to compress a couple of weeks of adventure and several personal stories into a 2-hour movie. Perhaps, a TV miniseries would have served the purpose better.
What Can Be Learnt
Everest, in the form that I imagined it to be, should have been a story about HUMANITY, the condition of being human. I am thinking of two points here. Firstly, showing respect to the mountain itself. In the book, Sherpas are celebrated more than in the movie – the truth is that without their help, climbing the mountain would be an impossible victory. What they also bring to the journey is a spirituality that often lacks in the high-achieving spirits. For them, the mountain is a goddess and proper behavior must be adopted. Superstitions in Western eyes, but they are expressions of humbleness in the face of greatness, in the face of nature. Wiser people understand that nature has the final word. This belief had little room when ascent on the highest place on Earth was promised by the two commercial companies. Rob Hall and Scott Fischer truly honored the mountain and wanted to share their experience with those willing and brave enough, but the trend at the time was that with a little help, anyone can climb Everest. Rob Hall suffered greatly because Sir Hillary criticized the efforts of commercial mountaineering companies on Everest. Intentions were good on the part of the two leaders, but their actions had serious consequences. This is only evident in the movie when Rob picks up some rubbish left around the Base Camp. A stranded moment of honesty that reflects how consumerism can reach even the most difficult places. The second perspective of being human showcased in the movie and in the book is of course the relationship between people in the face of great danger and, ultimately, in the face of the unavoidable end. The movie shows the people who went back for a friend, those who abandoned others and those who stayed put. The actions portrayed on screen may seem very cold and at times inhuman, and I wonder how many viewers knew about the effects of lack of oxygen on the brain and thinking in general, about the exhaustion and the terrible cold that took its toll. I don’t know any of this, except from what I read and saw in documentaries, but the 3-minute briefing that Elizabeth Debicki’s character offers at the beginning is not enough to grasp the full strain placed on the human body and mind at that altitude. That is why I appreciated so much the conclusion our professor invited us to reach: we cannot judge, we cannot know what those people were thinking and how their heart might have told them differently but couldn’t act. Returned at Base Camp, John Krakauer said (also featured in the movie): I am sorry. Sorry for the people who died, sorry that he survived, sorry for the things he could have done and didn’t, sorry for the families and friends. At the end, although tough and relentless, the mountain proves to be the most human of all: in its cold arms, many take their final rest. As tragic as it is for the outsiders, Everest keeps close those who belong to her.
What’s the Key Take-Away
The heart will not be as impressed as the eyes, nevertheless, Everest is a must see. Beck Weathers, one of the miraculous survivors of that expedition, played by Josh Brolin, declared that the movie takes him apart, but despite the terrible experiences he’s been through, says he loved being up there. We might not fully comprehend the pull of the mountain, we might not begin to comprehend the physical and mental hardships that come along with it and we might not become haunted by the tragedy, but for two hours, in the cinema, we get as close as possible to Everest and the love and HUMANITY it demands from people.