Film Reviews

VIEWTIFUL DRE – <i>Meru</i> (2015)

VIEWTIFUL DRE – Meru (2015)

Andre Cole

September 11th, 2015


There is something about the human spirit that makes people want to do things that they aren’t meant to do. For example, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane makes no logical sense. But for some, the adrenaline rush that makes them feel alive. That’s part of what makes us human: our attempts to overcome nature and bend it to our will. For better or worse, that’s how the world we live in today came to be.

Meru is a documentary that follows three rock climbers — Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk — willing to risk their lives for their obsessive desire to be the first to reach the summit of Shark’s Fin, one of the five peaks of Mount Meru. Conrad’s first attempt at Shark’s Fin was in 2003, but his team had to turn back early due to inadequate preparation. With a renewed vigor, he gathers his friends and makes a second attempt in 2008, where the film picks up, and a third in 2012. Chin acts as the cinematographer, and splits his first directing credit with his wife, veteran documentarian Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, who handles the segments that take place off the mountain.

Interviews with the climbers, family members, and author Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air) paint the picture, explaining why these men felt the need to risk their lives on such a dangerous climb. Both Anker and Chin had completed climbs on Mount Everest, but the film assures us that Shark’s Fin is much more dangerous, which makes some of the decisions that the group makes completely baffling — for example, their decision to continue their ascent even after losing half of their food in four days due to an unforeseen storm

Despite their penchant for bad choices, the trio are incredibly lucky. The film highlights moments from early in their climbing careers, and between their attempts on Shark’s Fin, each demonstrating how climbing gives meaning to their lives. Over the course of Meru, all three encounter life-threatening events or injuries that would kill or cripple most people. Even Renan, who survives a cracked skull and several fractured vertebrae, manages to recover rather quickly. But all these events serve to inspire the men to work even harder at achieving their dream.

I would be remiss to not mention Chin’s camera work during the climbs. He captures the natural beauty of the mountain from a distance and, thousands of feet from the ground, the climbers’ foreboding from up close. Vignettes from inside their portaledge (a hanging tent used for rock climbing) serve to either lighten the mood as they attempt to eat their dinner of frozen couscous or ramp up the tension as they sit quietly inside, exhausted, their breaths visible whenever they exhale.

Meru, which should appeal to mountain climbers and documentary fans alike, demonstrates what people are capable of when they are truly passionate about something, while their tales of friends and mentors who are no longer with them show how dangerous an obsession can be for a person and those around them. Rock climbing makes sense as a workout and social activity, but what logical reason do people have to risk their lives climbing to the summit of Shark’s Fin? I suppose there isn’t one, and doesn’t need to be. For some people, that rush of doing something that they weren’t meant to do, whatever the risks, is enough.

Meru begins its run at the Bijou Art Cinemas. Click here for showtimes.

Andre Cole is a junior at the University of Oregon, pursuing a degree in public relations. He likes to divide his time between video games, movies, and friends, sometimes combining all three. Viewtiful Dre is an irregular column in which he provides critical analysis of films screening locally.

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