Nestled in the heart of India’s Garwhal Himalayas stands a beautiful yet ominous mountain called Meru Peak. Topping at an elevation of 21,850 feet, the mountain features three peaks, one being Meru Central which is considered by mountaineers as one of the world’s toughest climbs. Meru Central features a 4000 foot granite wall called the Shark’s Fin and the route around it has been tried and failed by the world’s best climbers.
This documentary tells the story of three climbers who first attempted to conquer the Shark’s Fin in 2008. The three determined men endure a major storm, harsh temperatures, and a shortage of supplies only to be forced back down a few feet away from conquering the peak. It’s disappointing and demoralizing for the team but it is nothing compared to the adversity each would individually face in the three years that followed.
Early into the film it’s easy to see these guys as nothing more than free-spirited adrenaline junkies. You would have to be a bit crazy to take the deadly risks they take and to put your body through the stress they do. But after the failed attempt to summit Meru, team leader and one the world’s best climbers Conrad Anker, his trusted partner Jimmy Chin (who also directed, co-produced, and shot the film), and young but trustworthy Renan Ozturk each experience personal tragedies or near-death experiences that completely alter their lives.
The documentary takes a detour from climbing to look at these tragedies and show us the effects they had on these men. Tackling Meru was no longer important. Life had taken darker turns and each man was bearing his own heavy burden. Through this Anker, Chin, and Ozturk become more to us than adrenaline junkies. It grounds them on the most human levels. As a result we empathize with them when they decide to go back to Meru Central. We understand their personal motivations and we too see this as more than just a climb.
At times you may feel like your watching one big North Face advertisement. The logo seems to be in every shot. There are also moments where the narrative transitions are a little rocky. Other than that “Meru” hits every important note you want from a documentary. But it also has an intriguing structure that teases you to make negative assumptions before unveiling its deeper human component. That is when I knew “Meru” had a lot more going on under its surface. I ended up caring about these men, empathizing with their perspectives, and reflecting on my own viewpoints. I love it when a film is able to pull that kind of reaction out of me.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
Saw this just a few weeks back on Netflix and enjoyed it as much as you, Keith. I don’t know why it is, but I keep an eye out for mountain climbing documentaries. Part of me would love to have taken on expeditions such as these, even if I lack the talent and drive to do so. Like the others I’ve seen, there’s a vicarious thrill in watching them. Fine look, my friend.
I am frequently drawn to mountain climbing stories. Something insane about them scaling vertical sides of earth. I love the cinematography, usually. This documentary sounds interesting, Keith. Thanks for the review!
Sure thing Cindy. This is a very compelling story that takes some unexpected turns. But it still captures the unbelievable spectacle of the climb.
Ah man, R.I.P Conrad Anker.
Yep. Seen this one?
Unfortunately man I have not. I moved out of Knoxville some time ago now and that town had this great indie theater. I was really fond of it. I looked it up when I had settled in to New Jersey and saw that it was playing. I cursed the movie gods, because I really love mountaineering docu’s, even despite their formulaicness
This one does steer clear of any formula (both mountaineering and documentary formulas). I’m pretty sure it is out on demand and bluray now. Maybe even Netflix.
Yeah I’ve scoped Netflix. It’s not available in the States yet unfortunately but hopefully very soon. I’d love to check it out, esp if it does avoid formula. Not that formula in itself is a bad thing, of course. 🙂
Crap! Well hopefully soon.
Interesting doc! I’ll put this on my watch-list! I always find people with extreme passions really complex, because they’re bound to forgo something in pursuit of their lofty goals. It’s like they’re wired like this, and so it’s sad that we can’t have it all in this world. Just a thought…anyways great review! It made me ponder that much :))
Wonderful thought especially as I connect it to the people spotlighted in this film. Your observation really connects with what goes on here.
Ahhh, my good friend told me how good this film was about a month ago. I love docs about extreme sports, esp when they’re beautifully-shot like this one. Nice one Keith, I should watch this real soon!
It is very good. Its beautiful to look at but the human element is really explored well. I’d be anxious to hear your reaction to it.
Hey Keith, I was just browsing about Bentonville Film Festival http://bentonvillefilmfestival.com/ That’s close to where you live right? Sorry if I’m confusing the states again, but if I remember correctly you’re in Arkansas right? I’m hoping to take part next year, I remember you said there wasn’t any film fest near you. Well now there is 🙂
Yep, I’m in Arkansas. Bentonville is in the northwest part of the state. Really pretty country up there. Didn’t know much about the BFF. Thanks so much for the link.
I’m gonna have to give this a shot Keith, it sounds great! I loved the doco Sherpa too, this sounds like one to watch. I’m interested in how you describe the men as having their lives altered by what happens… you’ve got me very intrigued!
Good! Hope you enjoy. It ended up being something totally different than I expected.
Mmm it sounds like it, I’m interested to see the human element you speak of.
Curious, have you seen Sherpa?
No, I haven’t seen that one.