summit spash screen

Staying true to one’s self in the face of death is not something everyone can do. Ger McDonnell is an exception. The last moments of his life were not spent selfishly but rather helping others survive on one of the world’s deadliest mountains.

For every four people who climb K2, only three will return. With this kind of statistic even the most trained mountaineers think twice before summiting the mountain known as the Savage Mountain. In 2008, 24 climbers from around the world began the climb to the summit of K2 and only 13 returned, making it the deadliest day in K2 history.

The Summit, a film directed by Nick Ryan, coming to Seattle theaters today, October 4, explores this journey and the controversy surrounding what really occurred during these tragic days and the days leading up to the deaths of these 11 mountaineers.

Combining real footage and dramatized reenactments, the film depicts an event so deadly and so chaotic that it is still unclear exactly what happened. The film was more than a play-by-play of the climb. It also captured the emotional and cultural complexities that go along with a summit attempt that involves people from all over the world.While many people may know about this event, The Summit brings interesting perspectives that may not have been seen in the post-event coverage. As the movie unravels you realize the story you have heard may not be the same one told in the film.

From the story of Ger McDonnell, the first Irishman to summit K2 and someone who gave up his life in an effort to save near-strangers, to the love story of Cecelia Skog and Rolf Bae, whose last moments together were spent clinging to ice axes and rope on the side of  this deadly mountain, The Summit brings an inspirational element to a traumatic event.

While the movie director, Nick Ryan, attempts to sort out the details of what really occurred, the stories were very different, and that doesn’t even account for the 11 testimonies that will never be heard. The stories of those who died.

The movie does not tell the story in a chronological order, but rather goes back and forth between interviews, real footage and reenactments in a way that can be confusing and hard to follow. Throughout the film it was also unclear when we were seeing a reenactment or actual footage of the day. Some seemingly random placements of stories may leave viewers feeling lost. Simply keeping track of so many characters proves nearly impossible. It’s exacerbated by the fact that they were in full climbing gear in most of the shots, and covered by similar down suits.

Overall Ryan does a good job of bringing in many perspectives and delving deeper into a story that the media only seemed to skim. The intensity was certainly not lacking in The Summit, though some of the storytelling methods proved hard to follow.

We may never know the exact events of this dreadful day in 2008, but The Summit conveys a version of what happened. Between interviews, footage and testimonies from those involved, The Summit sheds some light on this day and shows the emotional and cultural complications that contributed to the tragedy, as well as the inspirational stories of the individuals involved.

The Summit opens tonight at the Harvard Exit Theater, 807 East Roy in Seattle. It opens in Vancouver WA on October 18 and Bellingham on October 25. Book tickets here.

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