Anyone who’s visited my site probably knows of my fascination with the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine on Everest in 1924. I’d been watching the production of this film for a while and I luckily caught this the last night they were showing it in the theatre in St. Louis.
Being as familiar with the mystery as I am there wasn’t much history I wasn’t already aware of. Most people watching this film, however, probably don’t have any background on Mallory and his three attempts to be the first to stand on the top of Mount Everest. The film did a fine job of painting Mallory as the driven, talented, and conflicted person he was. The film was part historical documentary, part cinematic re-enactment, and part modern-day replication. It alternates between Mallory’s summit bids and Conrad Anker and Leo Holding’s summit attempt under the same conditions and (mostly) using the 1924 era equipment Mallory and Irvine used.
There are a number of theories as to exactly what happened on that day in 1924, as many of them include Mallory and Irvine reaching the summit as do not, and Anker also has his own opinions. He’s convinced that Mallory survived the fall and placed his good leg over his bad leg, expiring shortly thereafter from exposure. There are competing theories as to the actual cause of death (Mallory had a hole in his head which might have been caused by a kickback from his ice axe or an impact on a rock) and whether or not he was even conscious when he came to rest on the north face of Everest. Anker is an experienced climber who’s summited Everest and, don’t forget, he found Mallory. His opinion is as good or better than any. Anker stops short of claiming he believes the pair successfully summited the mountain but he entertains that it’s definitely possible they had the ability to, given they retained their strength and frame of mind.
Where the film really shines, in my opinions, is in stunning cinematography and its ability to effectively show the route the pair took. A virtualized, arial sequence literally walks the viewer along the route from above ground and allows we “armchair mountaineers” a chance to see exactly how the mountain is laid out and how the route was established. It also provides a stunning view of just how exposed one is on the face of the mountain and the sheer, nearly vertical drop awaiting anyone careless or unfortunate enough to misstep. It’s truly lethal up there.
Sandy Irvine is given second billing, as one would expect, but the film’s treatment of him is positive and consistent.
Since Anker is effectively the “star” of this film what you don’t see are the conflicted theories and varied speculations as to exactly what happened up there on that day. Given the nature of the film, that’s understandable and reasonable. For me, however, one of the most interesting things about the whole mystery are the varying theories. Contemplating all the ways it might have happened is where the mystery deepens and becomes almost mythical. Another item missing from the film is the famous camera loaned to Mallory which could hold photographic proof of a successful summit. I can see how focusing on multiple theories might get confusing to the audience, not to mention all the time it would take to lay them all out. Interesting persons can scour the Internet or pick up some books on the subject to get plenty more.
Overall I liked this film and it held my attention throughout. Although I didn’t learn anything new in terms of the history or the mystery surrounding the pair. I did get to see some wonderful and breathtaking shots of Everest and my knowledge of how the mountain was physically climbed has been increased. I’d been wanting to see Anker climb that second step for a while now. Definitely worth the time and money.
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