True/False Film Review: Meru

By Sean Morrison

Among a mountain of films at the True/False Film Fest this weekend, Meru is a must-see.

The movie details the journey of three alpinists who take on the Shark’s Fin in Mount Meru, a formation in the Himalayas that is one of the most difficult climbs in the world. The 20,000-foot ascent took two tries for the group, and the trio faced trials other than the mountain on their path to the summit.

Meru combines compelling narratives, breathtaking visuals, tension, focus and a stunning soundtrack.

Mountain climbers called Mount Meru “the anti-Everest.” The Shark’s Fin makes following a Sherpa up a mountain look easy. The incline, mix of elements, altitude and a myriad of other factors made Meru’s summit appear unreachable even for the best alpiners.

That impossibility stirred Conrad Anker. He first tried to get to the top in 2003 but only made it two-thirds of the way up. In 2008, he got Jimmy Chin (one of the film’s directors) and Renan Ozturk to join him. Chin is also a passionate climber, and he decided to document the journey.

Photo courtesy of True/False Film Fest

Photo courtesy of True/False Film Fest

On the first attempt, just more than 300 feet from the summit, the group was forced back. Like everyone else who had tried, they failed. But three years later, the trio returned, obsessed with the idea of beating the mountain. Meru makes sure the average person can relate to that risk addiction, too, and through interviews and quiet moments on the mountain manages to wrap the casual observer into this extreme niche of the sport. The perils of the trip make viewers hope for success and wish the team would give up at the same time. Such is the danger, and the connection, filmmakers Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (who was not on the climb) create through the screen.

Through two climbs over three years, the film fleshes out why someone would take on such a dangerous passion, how it affects friends and families, the tragedies that come with taking on mountains and the exhilaration of making the ascent.

Though Mount Meru isn’t a tourist attraction and Meru itself isn’t a vehicle for advocacy, it gives us amazing shots of mountainscapes, sunrises and the lands surrounding the Shark’s Fin. In doing so, it reconnects us with a world untouched by people and how splendid these places can be when people keep their footprints to a minimum. Such images can draw attention toward Mount Everest, which faces pollution and health risks because of a lack of attention to the environment.

MERU Official Trailer from Jimmy Chin on Vimeo.

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