Meru (2015) / Documentary-Adventure
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 87 min.
Cast: Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, Jon Krakauer, Renan Ozturk,
Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vaserhelyi
Review published August 29, 2015
Sacred Himalayan peak Meru Peak in northern India, at nearly 22,000 feet, may not be the tallest mountain in the world, but it is one of the most difficult to climb. It's so difficult that, at least prior to this documentary's footage, it had never been scaled successfully, even by several of the world's best mountain climbers who've tried repeatedly, ultimately failing once they get to the precipitous "Shark's Fin" of the mountain's central of three peaks, where climbing is slow, the harsh climate is freezing, and the places to rest nearly nonexistent.
Meru documents both a 2008 and a 2011 attempt by Jimmy Chin, who put much of this film together, along with his longtime climbing partner Conrad Anker and ultra-athletic free-climber Renan Ozturk, to scale the complicated peak before the hundreds of pound of food and other necessary supplies runs out that would make success an impossibility.
In addition to the scaling of the peak, we also get the nervousness such treks put upon the families the men leave behind, knowing that people with as much skill have died in the process, including Anker's former partner Mugs, whose dream had always been to climb that particular mountain. That unfulfilled dream provides the rationale on Anker's drive to climb it, even though his wife implores him to be more modest about his adventures for the sake of her and their children. There's also a mishap to Renan tjat occurs between expeditions, suffering a near-fatal snowboarding accident that sees him with a busted skill, gnarled vertebrae in his neck, and an increased potential for a brain clot to form that could kill him in the high altitudes should he be crazy enough to attempt it again.
The movie also takes a look at how much prep work is required for such a journey, as well as why Meru in particular has proved to be just a nightmare from any teams bold enough to try to top it. In addition to the climbers and their respective significant others, famed adventure author and enthusiast Jon Krakauer ("Into the Wild") chimes in with his own perspectives on the perilous nature of the Meru climb, as well as what drives humans to want to climb such peaks in the first place. Chin claims it's for the view, but given he could just get helicoptered in to see that, there's obviously so much more they want to prove to themselves, and to others. But mostly, one gets the feeling that they don't know what compels them to do what they do, except that they just know that they really, really want to. To stare death in the face and come out victorious, especially accomplishing what few, if any have dared to before is what makes it such an appeal.
As Meru is so dangerous that no camera crews, or even Sherpas, will accompany the climbers, its to the credit of the three men on the climb that they manage to get enough quality footage from the GoPro and DSLR cameras they've brought along in their already stuffed and heavy equipment. As compact as the recording equipment has to be, it looks breathtaking, especially since most of the footage has to be shot from one of the three men during their risky ascension where life hangs upon their utmost concentration.
It's not all perfect. Perhaps the film is too insider in its production to translate well to audiences who aren't familiar with the hows and whys of mountain climbing, as it never delves particularly deep as to the motivation for such extreme determination for these specific men to do what they do. Also, the move feels a bit too frontloaded with other expeditions the men have been on that either did or didn't work out so well. While those bits aren't uninteresting, they don't always directly pertain to the Meru climb at hand, and also come at the expense of the film's ending, which feels a bit short on payoff, and almost nonexistent in terms of wrapping things up afterward in the kind of profound or meaningful way befitting such a significant build-up.
©2015 Vince Leo