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