Film Review: Meru

Meru is a thrilling look at what it takes to climb the world’s toughest summits, wrapped around three personal journeys that are as compelling as any narrative film.

Meru is centered around three climbers attempt to climb the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru in Northern India. It is an unclaimed summit, with a couple dozen of the world’s best climbers failing to reach the top. Our climbers are director Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk and, the “legend” of the group, Conrad Anker.

Anker has a personal mission to conquer Meru, as it was his mentor’s, Mugs Stump, dream to reach the summit, but like many climbers Stump perished before he ever reached his goal. Anker is the most interesting personality in the film. He seems like a kind and team oriented person, but there is something burning behind those eyes that lets you see the sort of selfishness it takes to do things to this extreme. That might sound more negative than I mean, his drive to finish what he started is what makes him the great climber that he is, but I swear I saw rage in Anker’s eyes when Ozturk had his few issues on the mountain.

Ozturk is the new guy on the team, Chin and Anker have climbed for years before the events of the film, and it’s sort of perfect how all three of these guys fit a type for an ideal dynamic for telling a story. You couldn’t have scripted the stuff that happens to these guys any better. Ozturk’s journey in the film would have made you cry bullshit if it happened in a narrative film. I also really appreciate Chin not trying to pull any punches when telling the story. These guys were a team that depended on each other, but everyone is very candid about how they thought someone was screwing up/maybe being too risky throughout their journey.

Chin is not only an expert climber, but quite the adventure documentary director as well. Shooting the film themselves, Chin and Ozturk are credited as the cinematographers, you get an endless stream of incredible shots of Meru, the film isn’t for those that might experience vertigo. You can’t even believe how these guys climb like this, for days, sleeping on the side of the mountain, but Chin gives us unprecedented access to a climb of this type. You will be amazed again and again with the crazy things these guys do to reach the summit, but the footage Chin has from off Meru is just as impressive. In fact, that Chin has footage from both of the key story turns in the middle of the film make the movie what it is. Told through a few talking heads, the impact of these major pieces to the story wouldn’t resonate the way they do as we get to go along with the experiences as they happen.

I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns of Meru, but I can easily recommend it as one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while. The imagery is awe-inspiring and should be seen on as big a screen as possible. Chin and his co-director, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, have assembled a documentary that can go toe to toe with the drama of any scripted feature. You won’t believe what you are seeing, yet it’s all real in Meru.

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