In his review of Franc Roddam’s 1992 mountain climbing movie ‘K2,’ Roger Ebert wrote: “If I ever fell off a mountain, I would shout ‘Stupid! Stupid!’ at myself all the way down, for having willingly and through great effort put myself in a position to fall to my death.” I thought about that line as I watched the trailer for the new star-studded film Everest, which traces the real life events—and lives lost—from the disaster at Mount Everest in 1996. ‘Everest‘ is a film that I find of particular interest: a red-blooded survival tale set in one of the world’s most unforgiving, freezing and deadly mountains. There’s no doubt I will be engrossed by the setting of this film alone, but Ebert’s blunt take-down of the genre—and of the real life mountain climbing sport in general for that matter—made me revisit some favorite mountain movie titles from my childhood, such as ‘Cliffhanger‘ and ‘Alive.’ Those were two films about two very different sets of people stranded in the snowy mountains: one concerns heroes who are professional mountain climbers fighting armed henchmen and the other recreates a bizarre, true story survival tale of a Uruguayan rugby team that resorted to cannibalism after their plane crashed in the Andes mountains. I thought about the films’ differences in regard to their respective plots and what was at stake—but this consideration was soon eclipsed by the bigger, more worldly theme of mortality. At the end of the day, these mountains serve as domineering and unnatural environments for us; we probably shouldn’t be up there climbing in the first place. No matter how different one mountain-climbing film is from the next one, they all share the same absolute truth, in that we are deeply humbled by how deadly these snowy wonders of Earth are. And when some of these films look at a mountain’s visual majesty as a means for spirituality, they only get to that personal epiphany after putting their protagonists through tragic loss or defeat. The mountain is supposed to represent life’s hurdles, life’s challenges. Even when we reach the top of the mountain, we are reminded of how small, frail and, in some instances, alone we are in the grand scheme of things. And there’s a terrifying beauty and an unapologetic humanity in that. So if one were to look at it that way, maybe falling from the mountain is an act of humility; it’s the most outward physical gesture that proves we tried elevating ourselves in the first place.
Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOWwhich boasts the tagline: “Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System.” You can follow Nelson on Twitter here.