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Laramie Movie Scope: Meru

A real cliffhanger of a documentary

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 7, 2015 -- This documentary about mountain climbers attempting to scale one of the most difficult and dangerous mountains in the world has a lot more going for it than just amazing images and death-defying adventures, although it has plenty of those. We also get to know something about the intriguing personal lives and motivations of the three key climbers in this movie, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk.

This movie is as much about the personal journey and the mind set of the three climbers who attempt to climb the Shark's Fin route up Meru Peak, a route that had defeated all the expert climbers who came before. This climb makes Everest look easy. This film doesn't just take us to the mountain side, it gets us into the heads of the climbers and helps us understand why they are there.

The climb is a summit over 21,000 feet above sea level in the Himalaya mountains. First you have to climb past about 4,000 vertical feet of ice and rock before you get to the hard part, which is a sheer granite wall, which requires a whole different set of skills and equipment than needed in the first part of the climb. Plus, you have to carry all your own equipment and supplies for the whole climb.

The images of the climb are amazing. The best ones are the time lapse footage the stars wheeling around the Meru summit. One of the scariest moments of the film comes when the tent (hanging from the side of the mountain) breaks, and the climbers have to repair it on the spot. Another scary scene shows the climbers in their tent, listening to a nearby avalanche ripping down past them on the mountain.

While the film does a great job of showing how difficult this climb is, it also gives us an inside look at the world of big time mountain climbing, from professional climbers, to homeless climbers who are like ski bums and surfing bums. These gypsy climbers live for the sport, and have little in the way of personal possessions. The climbers talk frankly about the risks they take, how they push it up to a certain point, but no farther.

Jimmy Chin, a climber who also did most of the cinematography, and co-directed this film, survived a harrowing avalanche in the Tetons while filming another project. Renan Ozturk was severely injured in a separate incident while participating in the same project in the Tetons. Despite that, the three climbers all decided to try for the “impossible” Meru climb a few months later. Ozturk climbed at altitude only months after the accident, despite doctors' warnings that he could suffer a stroke because of his injuries.

One reason that Conrad Anker wanted to climb Meru is that it was a personal goal of Terrance “Mugs” Stump, his mentor. After Stump died in a climbing accident, Anker felt it was up to him to continue the quest to climb Meru. Another personal story that relates to Anker is the avalanche on Everest that injured him and killed his climbing partner Alex Lowe. Then there are the unusual family stories of the climbers. There are rich, emotional stories in this movie that look like they were made up by a Hollywood writer, rather than the factual stories they are.

This documentary has it all — high adventure and the accessible emotions of these rare people who challenge one of the toughest mountain routes in the world. It is an adventure, and it is inspiring. It rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)