Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Into Thin Air

Director: Balastar Kormakur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington
Released: September 18, 2015
Viewed in theaters: September 18, 2015

If you have read Jon Krakauer's book, "Into Thin Air", then you are familiar with the story of an expedition to the top of Mount Everest in which bad weather and faulty planning killed 8 climbers in May 1996, many of them quite experienced among them. (Although, if you are not familiar, be aware of the spoilers!)  This movie is based on Krakuer's book as well as other books that were written by the survivors of this tragedy, but being as he is a writer, Krakauer's is probably the most well-known. I'm a little surprised it took so long to make a movie about this event (almost 20 years!), although there was a made for TV movie about it that was aired in 1997 (probably a little too soon!)

I had read Krakauer's book five years ago so I didn't remember exactly who died and who survived that fateful day, but if I had read the dedication page, it would have refreshed my memory as he dedicated the book to those who perished. Although while watching the movie, I began to remember certain people and what had happened to them. Oh yeah, that poor Japanese woman freezes to death or I remember that Texan man wrote a book about this so he survives. And Rob Hall and Doug Hansen are the guide and client, respectively, who made it to the top way too late and didn't get down in time. All of which I had read five years ago just came back to me in a flood of memories.

Rob Hall (portrayed by Jason Clarke) was a 35 year old New Zealander who was the leader and head guide of Adventure Consultants which took clients up to the summit of Everest. His was probably the most known because he had many successful expeditions. His was almost the most expensive because it cost $65,000 to be part of his group (and that doesn't always guarantee reaching the top!) That was definitely something I remembered from the book and was waiting for it to be brought up in the movie and sure enough it was. It boggles my mind that anyone would pay that much money to go through hell!  The question is brought up by Krakauer the journalist (portrayed by Michael Kelly who plays Doug Stamper on House of Cards). Not so much the question, "Why would you pay all this money to do this?" but rather "Why are you climbing this mountain?" Doug Hansen (portrayed by John Hawkes) says he wants to let his children see that if an ordinary man like him can achieve an impossible dream, then they can do the same. While most of Hall's clients were fairly wealthy (you kind of have to be!), Doug was a mailman and had paid for the trip by working extra overnight shifts at the post office. He had gone to Everest with Hall the previous year but hadn't reached the top and this time he was determined. Yasuko Namba (portrayed by Naoko Mori) says she has been to six of the seven highest summits and Everest was the last one. She became the oldest woman to summit Everest (although she never made it down alive), but her record was surpassed in 2001.

With conditions of 100 degrees below zero and very thin air that causes extreme altitude sickness, that would be enough to give anyone second thoughts about climbing Everest. It would certainly give me second thoughts. I've had altitude sickness and it makes you feel weak and miserable. But Everest isn't just a mountain that you climb up. There are crevices you have to cross with ladders; there are steep ledges you have to walk along; there are places you have to climb with ropes. It's a very extraneous, very exhausting feat. I told my mom that I would be out as soon as I saw the long rope bridges they have to cross over a huge gap in the earth even before they begin climbing! I'd be like, "No thanks, rather not fall to my death if those ropes break!"

The movie begins at the airport in New Zealand where Rob Hall is with his base camp manager, Helen (portrayed by Emily Watson) and they're getting ready to leave for Nepal. Hall is saying goodbye to his wife, Jan (portrayed by Keira Knightley) who is also a climber (they summited Everest together in 1993), but can't go with him this time because she is seven months pregnant. I knew for sure he wasn't coming back when she is giving him a tearful goodbye.

There were a lot of people climbing Everest during the same time and it got to be a bit of an issue. Rob decides to team up with another guide, Scott Fisher (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his clients. They started on March 30 and didn't reach the top until May 10. Something I learned when I read Krakauer's book is that you start at base camp, then go to the camp one, then go to base camp again and repeat this a few times. It's so you acclimatize. It has to be so frustrating to be at camp one, then have to go to base camp and start the climb over again. The (very long) day they reach the top, they start just after midnight with a goal to reach the summit by 2 pm. Anything after that starts to become too dangerous because you have to remember reaching the top is only the halfway mark, you still have to turn around and head back.

Sadly, things do not go as planned. Things are slowed down because there were suppose to be ropes already ready at one point but they are not, so they have to do them themselves and that takes time. Several people are getting sick and weak. But they do reach the top and there is celebration. One of the people who is not there when they reach the top is Doug Hansen and Rob finds him on his way back still trudging up. He tells Doug they need to turn back, but Doug is determined to make it. From where they are, it looks like they are not even a mile from the top, but you know it's going to take a couple hours to reach it. Doug pleads for him to take him to the top and Rob agrees. When they do reach it, Doug is exhausted and Rob is doing everything he can to pull him down the mountain, but Doug won't budge. There is an ominous storm approaching. Rob radios base camp to tell them they need help and where they are. Helen mistakenly thinks he said "the bottom of South Summit" and when he corrects her and tells her they're at the top of the South Summit, you can see her face fall and become extremely concerned at that moment. At that point, Rob is still okay and they urge him to come down and they will send someone back up for Doug, but he refuses to leave Doug. As his guide, he felt extremely responsible for Doug and I'm sure he knew he should have refused to let Doug to the top seeing as his condition was very weak. Rob tells Doug to stay where he is and that he's going to go for help. At this point, Doug has become very disoriented. I don't know if he didn't hear Rob or just panicked, but he starts to follow Rob and ends up falling off the mountain. I don't know if this is how he really died because Wikipedia lists his death as being from exposure (same as Rob's), but the only other person up there with him was Hall who also died. When asked about Doug from Base Camp, he replies with, "Doug's gone" which is what was spoken in real life by Hall.

Rob is getting weaker and his oxygen tanks have frozen over. He's not really in a position to slide down because it looks like you need a rope to get down. They tell him a team will climb up the next morning to help him, but they have to abort the mission due to another bad storm. They patch him through to his wife in New Zealand and by this time his voice has started to become slurred. This is the part where I start to lose it and cry. The last words Rob says to his wife are, "I love you. Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don't worry too much." And that is taken from real life, nobody wrote that in the script.

Meanwhile, in other depressing news, Scott Fischer, who has been having some trouble, but passing it off like he is fine, ends up dying from hypoxia. He basically sits down and never gets up again. Then, closer to the camp, but not quite there, a group of climbers have to leave the Japanese woman, Namba and the Texan, Beck Weathers (portrayed by Josh Brolin) behind because they are both too weak to move and the others don't have the means to carry them back. They show them contacting the families and you see Beck's wife, Peach (portrayed by Robin Wright...who I did not recognize at all!) back in Dallas looking devastated and having to tell her kids. I was so confused by this scene because I was sure I remembered Beck surviving this! But then in a later scene, we see Beck with a bloodied face and hands wake up and start to get up and walk back to camp. He is frostbitten beyond belief and Peach organizes a rescue by helicopter which has never been done because it is way to dangerous, but they manage to get him and take him down. I believe they said he lost his hands and nose due to frostbite.

At the end, they have a little tribute to those who died showing photos of the actual people. I was surprised when I read that Rob Hall's body was still on the mountain. I suppose it's in a place that's not easy to get to. But I guess that's not unusual when people die on Everest. Throughout the movie, Rob and Jan had been debating about what they should name their daughter. Rob wanted Sarah, but Jan wasn't keen on the name, but while talking to him on the mountain, promises him she'll call her Sarah and we see a photo of Sarah Arnold-Hall who was 18 when this movie was filmed. She was born two months after her father died.

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