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Meru

Believe in the impossible.

The ‘Shark’s Fin’ on Mount Meru in northern India is a Holy Grail for big wall climbers, as it offers virtually every possible challenge, requiring heavy gear be hauled up its 20,000-plus-foot height to cope with the various obstacles – without sherpas to do the schlepping, as they do on Everest. It had been attempted numerous times, but each effort failed to reach the summit. That provides an irresistible lure to Conrad Anker, a celebrated middle-aged climber who breaks a promise to wife Jenni (the widow of his late climbing partner Alex Lowe) that he is done with major, high-risk expeditions. He assembles as teammates two younger men: Chin, with whom he’s frequently mounted peaks, and Renan Ozturk, another American whose climbing exploits caught his eye, and who is new to both of them.

Poster art for MeruTheir 2008 trip, which occupies roughly the pic’s first half, is a nail-biter. Ascending with fuel and food for seven days, they’re caught in a snowstorm for four, the climb dragging on nearly three times its anticipated length as they cope with other hurdles (not least  temperatures that sink to a limb-numbing -20°C). One hundred metres short of the summit, they’re forced to turn back, like others before them. ‘Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be climbed,’ Chin muses, in a moment of sanity. But the ‘possessed’ Anker can’t let it go. Three years later the trio return to Meru – and that’s despite a couple of near-fatal accidents that have left two of them severely traumatized physically and psychologically.

One might expect such obsessive need to conquer would come wrapped in a certain amount of egotistical hubris. But from all the evidence here, Anker, Chin and Ozturk are ingratiating, mild-mannered fellows, good-humoured under the most stressful circumstances, and touchingly devoted to their mutual friendship. (However, we also hear from the women in their lives, who are sometimes less than thrilled by their menfolk’s compulsive risk taking.) It’s telling that when the trio finally come within reach of their ultimate goal, one member simply defers to another in allowing him to grab the first-to-summit glory.

While you might well leave Meru thinking it requires a degree of craziness to undertake such perilous tasks – the protagonists admit some willingness to risk death is necessary – their personalities are nonetheless so relatable that the film sports an unusually high degree of emotional involvement for an extreme-sports chronicle. Into Thin Air author and climbing enthusiast Jon Krakauer is essentially the lead talking-head storyteller here, providing some contextual glue as well as insight into his friends’ sometimes outwardly baffling, neck-risking decisions.

– Dennis Harvey, Variety
 

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