In Everest, it is all throughout about the concept of “man versus nature”. The competition is not between people; the last word always belongs to the mountain. And so as the story unfolds and we take a good look at the tragic reality of the May 1996 expedition in which eight climbers died, the experience is dizzyingly hard to bear but it is as entertaining as how it should be for its intrepid stunts and special effects.
The emotional baggage of the story is carried by its wonderful ensemble of great actors—albeit mostly with their faces covered and only with the colors of their garments to distinguish them apart. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Scott Fischer, the founder and lead climbing guide for the Mountain Madness company. On another hand, Australian Rob Hall, played by Jason Clarke, goes in front of a rival team. Joining them in their expedition are Russian guide Anatoli Bourkreev (Ingvar Sigurdsson) and a number of amateur climbers such as Seattle mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) and Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin). Also with them is the only woman Japan’s Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has Everest as her last among the Seven Summits to conquer.
The humans in Everest are all with lives of their own and personal battles to get a grip on. Off the ropes up the mountains are Keira Knightley’s Jan Arnold, the pregnant wife to Hall’s Jason; and Robin Wright’s Peach, the domestically struggling wife to Beck. Communications outside and within Nepal is crucial to the advancement of the expedition thanks to the help of their base-camp coordinator Helen Wilton, played by Emily Watson.
There are serious notes on the risk of climbing the world’s highest peak that are carefully executed by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, working from a script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. With such great altitude, the temperature is at the extremities with the air so thin oxygen would run so dangerously low. The endeavor is even magnified by the unpredictability of the weather; one moment the clouds would gather and a sudden storm would surge on a terrain where the sun is only existing to provide hope. With a weaker body and lack of determination, coughing up blood and ending up with organ failure are nowhere near strange.
Victory is not entirely met as one gets to the summit since the grind continues during the descent. Only then can true victory be declared. Faces are zoomed in for an intimate view of the internal dilemmas–the pain in their eyes and the longing, amidst frostbite and snow blindness and heavy breathing, and only in those who survive can the joy be truly felt by those who were left behind.
While the technical aspect of Everest can be highly commended for its impressive take on breathing a living persona into the setting itself, there is much to consider on the emotional perspective. The assumption would be that this kind of story would showcase the heroism of the hopeful. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, it is a nothing else but a fine dramatization of the true events. We don’t get to take most of the awaited character development but in compromise we satiate ourselves through its harrowing actions. Through and through, a visual adventure is laid out like a feast for the famished. Breathtaking views and off-the-edge thrills are all present to satisfy the need for such.
It is not easy to dismiss the fact that all of the depicted people in Everest take the risk inasmuch as how the film knowingly does. These achievers and aspirants, each seemingly having distinct representations are up for the challenge only to put themselves in the midst of hazard itself. Beyond that is where it is no longer easy, let alone accessible, to have the emotional investment one would usually seek right from their very core. With the experience as the focus in Everest, there is no further digging into the psyche of our heroes. We could be empathetic but not with its characters that are rather thin as the air up there.