If you don’t feel like risking your life to climb the most infamous mountain in the world, the view of Mount Everest in the all its IMAX 3D glory is probably as good as you’ll get. The sweeping vistas of the mountain, captured in a depth that couldn’t be achieved without that extra dimension, make you feel like you’ve made it to the Nepalese mountains. But without that nasty frostbite that makes your toes fall off.
Aside from the magnificent views, “Everest” seeks to answer the looming question of why. Why would people risk everything they have for this? Director Baltasar Kormakur’s portrayal of the 1996 expedition that claimed eight lives answers it with a display of the ferocity with which these people attempt to conquer the beast.
The cast does its best through the heavy parkas and facemasks to convey the tragic story. Australian guide Rob Hall (Jason Clarke, “Zero Dark Thirty”) must lead his group up the mountain alongside his rival guide, American hippie Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”). Hall’s wife, Jan, (Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”), is a climber as well but is pregnant, so she cannot go on the trip. Also in their crew is Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”), a reporter who later captured the events in his book, “Into Thin Air,” the brash Texan Beck Weathers, (Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”) and the sole woman of the trip, Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori, “Humans”) who conquered the world’s Seven Summits by climbing Everest.
The backstories of the characters become less of a concern when the foreshadowing of the disaster ahead becomes fully clear. Aside from the literal corpses of past hikers they trek past, the communication via walkie-talkie is lacking, there are missing oxygen bottles and there are far too many people on the mountain for safety. If people are willing to pay $65,000 for this trip, from an economic standpoint it would make sense to take more climbers. But from a safety standpoint, it feels reckless.
Much of the film focuses on this commodification of Everest. It’s become less of an conquest solely for experienced climbers and more of a fatal tourist trap. Especially after glacial ice crashed down Everest’s west side and killed 16 sherpas last year, it weighs heavy the risk that this business creates for everyone. The tour leaders, like Hall and Fisher, have an inherent contradiction in their jobs – they must aid these people in achieving their dreams of summiting Everest but they also have to get them down the mountain alive. With a terrible storm coming, these goals prove to be mutually exclusive.
The story is gut-wrenching. To see people deliberately go to their death with the film’s foreshadowing playing as a funeral march is emotional and tense. But the movie’s thick coats and voices muffled through wind and snow leaves too much unexplained. Its beauty is absolute, so much so that you think you can reach out and touch the snow on the peaks. But “Everest” makes it hard to justify that beauty with the cost of human lives.