Christian Movie Review
[Note: after you read my review for “Everest” below, if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy or my podcast Aslan’s Paw. Both seek to crack open the surprising treasures of Christian belief — the things that Western society has forgotten, ignored, or never encountered — with the help of logic, literature, film, music, and one very unsafe Lion.]
Why would anyone want to climb to the cruising altitude of an airline — an elevation that literally sucks your life out of you with every passing minute?
When, in the film “Everest” — which tells the true story of the infamous 1996 Mt. Everest disaster — a journalist asks this question to the climbers preparing to summit Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 ft, the climbers respond in a surprising way: they evade the question.
Later, when the truth comes out one-by-one, the picture is complicated: a divorced mailman wants to do it to inspire his kids, to see a rare view of the world, and “because he can,” while another climber wants to do it because depression plagues him in his ordinary life at home, and when he’s climbing it’s the only time the depression lifts. A woman who has climbed six of the famous Seven Summits doesn’t give a direct answer at all — at least not a personal one — and this frustrates the journalist who is trying to get at the heart of what drives people to climb almost 30,000 feet above sea level.
This film doesn’t give an easy answer to the question either. The only thing that’s clear and simple is this: the mountain is extremely dangerous, and it — not any expert climber — will always have the last word.
Parental Guidance Content at a Glance for this PG-13 rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: None.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: Frozen dead bodies are seen lying on the ground. People are seen falling off of cliffs to their deaths. A man’s nose is partially frostbitten. People vomit blood and act delusional as the high altitude slowly drains their oxygen (and life) away. There isn’t any detailed gore, but the suffering and deaths of climbers — just the raw, visceral brutality of their experience — casts a grim, frighteningly intense atmosphere over the film, slightly similar to the dread of a horror movie.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Climbers drink beer and hard liquor while resting in the base camp.
(Review continues below)
Quick note: after you finish reading the review below, if you’re a pastor, youth pastor, or small group leader, check out these free community resources from Damaris, including some interviews with the filmmakers, featurettes and general discussion guides. These are general icebreaker questions to help get a deeper discussion going without being pushy or heavy-handed, allowing pastors and youth pastors to steer the conversation in a faith-based direction as they see fit.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
You come to a movie like “Everest” for a very simple reason: to see Mt. Everest. The film does not disappoint there. The visuals knocked me over (and also gave me the heeby jeebies when the camera looks down at steep drops). The filmmakers shot some of the scenes on location, including scenes in the actual South Base Camp of Everest where climbers begin their ascent. (Though they couldn’t do the dangerous climbing scenes on Everest; they had to cheat to get those.)
The Post-Gazette made these observations about how the filmmakers photographed Everest on location, borrowed some older footage, and substituted other locations to create the final jaw-dropping portrayal of the tallest mountain in the world:
…Salvatore Totino’s grand 3-D photography on location in Nepal (melded with “cheating” footage in the Italian Alps) combine craftsmanship and narrative momentum to render an amazing ascension to an amazing, heavenly hellish place. Shots of Kathmandu [a city in Nepal] and glimpses of Nepalese high-altitude life and monasteries in the clouds are breathtaking.
Jason Clarke plays one of the primary guides leading the expedition up Everest, and it is by far one of his finest roles. He plays it with an even-headed, casual-but-tensely-cautious-beneath-the-surface coolness that carries you along smoothly through the story. All of the actors surrounding him perform superbly as well. I was particularly drawn to the story of character Beck Weathers, played by the always fantastic Josh Brolin. There was a gutsy Texan confidence — that happy swagger — that functioned as a thin veil over a storm brewing inside of Weathers: fear.
That’s one of the things I appreciated about this movie. The human interactions felt plausible — more like real life. Human behavior in films tends to be melodramatic, of course, but it takes more effort and skill to convey the same drama without trumpeting it in obvious ways. Many of the actors in this film place the drama — the inward struggles — just below the surface of their cool, collected external personas. But the fear just below the surface is still palpable.
And when you see the scenes of a blizzard hitting Everest, one thing is clear: their fear was absolutely justified.
Worldviews, Subtext, Symbolism, Themes of Redemption, Social Commentary, the Question of “Spiritual Edification,” Etc.
In many ways the film is as much a critique of the decision to climb lethal mountains as it is a celebration of it. We see the way the lifestyle damages domestic ties: divorces, strained marriages, and other relationship problems litter the lives of many of the climbers and guides.
But the film does not try to lecture anyone or make that question the center of the film or its purpose. It keeps its narrative goals simple. I see two main themati
c forces at work:
1) The human spirit vs. the mountain
2) The preciousness of human life
For the second theme, the film doesn’t slam its hand on the Sentimental Button as hard as many other disaster films (thankfully), but it doesn’t need to. The mountain, and the heaviness of knowing it was all a true story, does much of the heavy lifting. I walked away feeling thankful for just another day to be alive and thankful for all the blessings, even the smallest ones, that God has given me.
With that first theme — the human spirit vs. the mountain — I found the film’s approach refreshing. It was not a pep rally or an Inspirational Poster for the power of the human spirit and how the human spirit can accomplish anything. It was not a chest pounding “Look how awesome we all are” moment for the human race to exalt in its greatness. Many movies that portray survival in extreme circumstances leave that aftertaste in the mouth — a sort of idolatrous adoration of the god-like supremacy of the human spirit and how we are all the great, unassailable captains of our ships and the masters of the universe.
No, in “Everest,” it’s more of a let’s-get-down-on-our-knees-and-humble-ourselves mentality. It’s a reminder of how small, fragile, and needy we truly are.
Conclusion: A Sobering But Exhilarating Adventure
The visuals alone are worth the ticket price, and the film, though a very sad story that breaks the heart, honors the memories of the people lost on that fateful day — and, really, the memory of any climber who has lost his or her life while climbing. (And though the film is about a terrible tragedy, there is also an uplifting, miraculous survival story embedded in the chaos — something that really happened. So there are positive things too. It’s not all soul-crushing.)
Ultimately, the film makes us feel how small we are in the shadow of the mountain. And that kind of humility can be a good thing.
My rating for “Everest”: [usr 8] (See my notes below on the rating scale.)
[NOTE from the author of this article: If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis or U2, please be sure to read my new blog Stabs of Joy, which explores 18 C.S. Lewis books and 13 U2 albums to answer one question: how do we really experience Christ’s joy — and not just talk about it — during seasons of sorrow and difficulty?]
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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