Review: ‘Meru’ — 3 men, a mountain and a quest

Tom Long
The Detroit News

The footage runs from breathtaking to outright frightening, and the story is one of courage and perseverance, but at some point while watching the rock-climbing documentary “Meru,” it’s natural to wonder: Are these guys nuts?

These guys would be the three climbers who set out to climb Meru, a 20,000-foot peak in India that has never been conquered before. And the question of their sanity, or even their motivation, is never fully answered in the film. They are, after all, risking their lives repeatedly to accomplish something that has no practical meaning or purpose.

The absence of such introspection may have something to do with one of the climbers — Jimmy Chin — being the film’s co-director (along with Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi). This is a guy who can go to sleep while dangling in a nylon bag on the side of a rock thousands of feet in the air. He’s obviously not plagued by an overquestioning mind.

Chin is teamed with the veteran climber Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk. All three have climbed some of the world’s most treacherous mountains, and all three know how difficult and dangerous Meru will be. Anker has had two close climbing partners over the years — both died on mountains. He has married the widow of his second partner and adopted her three sons.

Their first attempt at Meru is interrupted by a long snowstorm that leaves them stranded on the side of the mountain for days. Eventually they make it to within 500 feet of the peak, but by then they’re starving and weak. They have to turn back.

Time passes. Ozturk suffers a horrific skiing accident; no one knows if he’s going to live or walk again. A few days later, Chin gets caught in a massive snow avalanche where he’s completely enveloped; miraculously he survives. More time passes, wounds heal, and despite Ozturk’s still-dicey health, the three set out again to conquer Meru.

It’s inspirational and often thrilling stuff, beautifully shot and edited, but again questions linger: Are these guys nuts? Are their egos needy of self-affirmation? Or is there some higher purpose in such inexplicable endeavors? Do some people just have a genetic need to live on the edge? The answers beg more complex consideration.



Rated R for language

Running time: 87 minutes