Monday, September 14, 2015

Meru (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


There have been many cinematic stories about quests and man's hope to rival Nature.   "28 Hours" was a recent one. And in years past, there were "Deliverance," "Jeremiah Johnson," "Moby Dick" and countless others.

"Meru" is one documentary containing all of the  psychological elements found in an epic film, most notably ambition and obsession, or the wish to equal nature with a human footprint if only for a moment. This stirring documentary by climber Jimmy Chin is a kind of autobiography, detailing his journey in trying to reach The Shark's Fin, the most lethal peak in The Himalayas.

Chin endured great peril in trying to reach the mountain ridge as did head climber Conrad Anker and crew member Renan Ozturk who suffered a fractured skull in a ski accident.

This film is as terrifying in moments as a glacial version of "Jaws." The three mortal men struggle against huge walls of ice which are as intimidating as a gargantuan monolith by artist Richard Serra. Against these blinding white lanes, the men---muscles bulging---look like toiling carpenter ants--carrying their metal tools which look as insignificant as so many silver charms on a doll's wrist. Positioned upon the cosmos perhaps the tools are indeed vodou talismans to a frozen veve for safe passage.

At 25,000 feet, the trio spends weeks suspended on the side of a cliff, with only a tent to shield them. They endure frostbite and crises far worse.

Most intriguing is the family history presented. All three climbers seem obsessive. Conrad Anker wants to climb Meru in part to avenge his partner Alex who lost his life on a trek upwards. Jimmy Chin was badgered by his father into thinking he made a folly of his career. And Renan Ozturk broke his neck.

There is a moment in the film when the camera is accelerated. This shows the compulsive training that it takes to exist alongside Meru as Ozturk drags heavy tires with his waist and does scores of pushups and leg lifts. It is "Rocky" a la Stanley Kubrick.

Though the three rise up worthy of the challenge, the grail like endeavor demands a nearly soul-squelching cost.

The last shot of the ridge in black and purple like an illustration from Wagner or Frank Frazetta seems full of malice and evil, yet it is unfathomably beautiful, for just existing.

Though there have been countless films on the subject of mountain scaling, the narrative stands on its own for its awareness of sports obsession and the magnetic power of this icy juggernaut which consumes men, literally and spiritually. More arrestingly though, is the fact that both Chin and Ozturk crafted this film (as director and cinematographer respectively) at a time when they were very  nearly broken.

"Meru" is a wincing testament to Edmund Burke's Sublime. Underneath the film's otherworldly majesty, lies an unrequited love for a lethal juggernaut that inhabits mortal minds and a cautionary tale hinting of the Supernatural.

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