by Dan Webster and Bonnie Anderson
In 1996, 19 people died attempting to reach the “rooftop of the world” commonly known as the 7th summit of Mt. Everest, at 29,035 feet.
The film ‘Everest’ is an unsentimental depiction of a climb that went wrong and the fate of the men and one woman who attempted to make it to the top. English grammar fans will have to get used to hearing the word “summit” used as a verb. Once that’s done, it is an astonishingly exciting film.
‘Everest’ is part of a spate of movies this year based on true stories. But given the response from Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air, one of the books about this particular climb, one might wonder just how closely based? Krakauer, who made the climb and is depicted in the film, calls the movie “total bull.” Only those who were there really know the truth.
Watching this film in 3D is a necessity because really, after all, this film is all about a mountain approximately 60 million years old. Even though the film makers attempt to focus on the people, the film is about the mountain; its beauty, magnificence and omnipotence.
There is unpredictable weather, a “deathzone” at 20,000 feet where oxygen is minimal, and as this film shows, the human element of competition instead of cooperation between the climbing teams is front and center. If there is a reverence for the mountain in this film it is sketchily shown in a short clip with lots of incense and climbers sitting together with their hands in a prayer position.
Beyond the beauty, what you won’t see in the film is the significant amount of trash and garbage (except one very brief scene of someone picking up a couple candy wrappers) left behind by mountaineers. That’s probably the most important fact left out of this film. In 2014, the government of Nepal required each climber to bring back 17.6 pounds of garbage besides their own garbage. It is said the peak is the world’s highest rubbish heap. According to News/Discovery, the peaks are strewn with rubbish including human waste, oxygen cylinders, beer cans and human bodies (which don’t decompose in the extreme cold). The Eco Everest Expedition has collected 15 tons of garbage, nearly 1,300 pounds of human waste and six bodies since 2008.
This “fragile earth our island home” at the “top of the world” experiences nonchalant human waste and abuse by those who come to conquer.
But death creeps into the lives of the climbers, and even though the will to succeed and the drive to conquer is present within them, it really doesn’t matter. They aren’t in control and their lack of control dramatized on the big screen, loud and clear in 3D, brings home the message to us everyday folks. In this film and in the real lives of those who try to conquer it, in truth, “The last word always belongs to the mountain.”
Mountains have long fascinated humans. They are mentioned throughout the Bible as a place to be closer to God. Moses talks with God and receives the Ten Commandments there. Jesus is mentioned ten times in the four Gospels as going up to a mountain. In all, the word ‘mountain’ or ‘mountains,’ appears 363 times in the bible. Some Native Americans believe mountains are especially sacred where great spirits reside.
‘Everest’ is a metaphor for life. It makes its own weather, as one character says. It is all about trial and error, suffering and euphoria, and overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. It brings out the best and worst of humankind. And, more than likely, it changes forever those who make the effort.
No matter what we think or how hard we try, control is an illusion. We put our trust in God.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels.