I could have a stroke on the climb. For me, it was worth that risk. For me, it was something I had to do.
Meru is a riveting documentary about three climbers who set out to scale Meru, a mountain in the Himalayas that currently holds the records for the most failed climbs and that has, in fact, never been summited before. Key to its unconquered status is the Shark’s Fin, a vertiginous rock face, smooth and nearly entirely vertical for a breathtaking 4,000 feet. This is climbing of a whole different kind; you’re lucky, says Conrad Anker, leader of the three-man team, to make 500 feet a day. And one only gets to this week-long slog up the Fin after climbing up to the Fin, itself perched high atop the mountain.
This film succeeds in the area of astounding visuals. Jimmy Chin, one of the climbers, is also the director and he uses his camera to great effect, showing us chair grippingly terrifying moments, like Anker with about the first inch of his boots wedged onto a tiny ledge, standing absolutely vertical on the Fin’s face and jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas, panoramas of mountain peaks lost in clouds. But this film is also interested in the psychology of these three men. After an abbreviated first attempt fails, plans are set into motion for a second try, but as obstacle after obstacle rises in their path and they press on where any reasonable, rational human being would turn back, the film becomes surprisingly grim. Chin has an interesting perspective; he isn’t interested in lionizing himself or the other two men on his climb. I found my frustration and almost fury at these men growing as the third act of the film unfolded. All the questions begin to rise: why can’t these men just be normal? What is acceptable risk? Do they have the right to do this to their families? What if they don’t make it back? The film offers no easy answers, but the ending, and no spoilers, was one that left me in a profoundly ambiguous place, feeling emotions that are even now hard to put into words: a sort of awe, certainly, and a kind of terror of our wild planet, but also a strange kind of grief, a sadness that was quite haunting. Everest was about the lives and deaths of climbers; Meru is about the implacable, befuddling, infuriating drive of climbers and their strange, wild, terrifying inability to stay in the world of level ground. 4 stars.
tl;dr – documentary about mountain climbers is deep, terrifying, beautiful and disturbing in all the right ways; an ambiguous film and a haunting one. 4 stars.