Everest is based on journalist Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, the former Outside writer’s eyewitness account of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster that killed eight people. In one scene, the movie version of Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the climbers why they chose to climb Everest. Most reply with some version of “Because it’s there.”
That seems to be more or less why this movie was made, and it describes the style in which it is told. The movie was made to recapture the action and drama of that fateful day and provides a “just so” explanation of events with about the same amount of depth and bland you-can-do-it sentiment as one of those black-framed office motivational posters. Viewed to the tune of the usual cinematic orchestra, these death-defying heights look and feel ordinary and factory-made. It’s the age-old Hollywood tale of how masculine heroism can outlast even the harshest of storms and how if you just never let go, you’ll get back to your wife in one piece.
Which is to say, as an adventure film, it suffices. It’s true that outdoor adventure often finds its explanation in silence, and in a way, the movie does a very respectful job of honoring the wordless reasons for expedition. The cinematography is beautiful, of course, but that’s sort of an easy win on the camera crew’s part, given that the Himalayas are some of the most spectacular mountains on earth. The blizzard scenes are gritty, and the suffering is believable.
But Everest does nothing to explore why the disaster happened beyond “because it happened.” There’s a line about the $65,000 price tag but little to suggest how competitive commercialization added to disastrous conditions. And there is, classically, barely a word about the Sherpas, who, despite aiding almost every expedition and despite accounting for a third of the bodies on the mountain, remain the invisible unmentionables of Everest in Western eyes, underpaid and unacknowledged. For now, the mighty mountain, on-screen as off, somehow winds up a bland motivational metaphor to service commercial interests, with a blindness toward the less convenient truths of why.