The long shadow of a late mountaineering legend

The stream of documentaries of recent years on high-risk rock climbing and mountaineering has offered a lot of wheelchair athleticism, of course. But for viewers with a more casual than envious interest in such adventures, it’s hard not to wonder: Do these daredevils have personal attachments? Who would be reckless or masochistic enough to form a serious relationship with someone who is constantly tempting fate? This problem was touched on in the hit single “Free Solo” three years ago, which devoted attention to the ropeless climber Alex Honnold’s first long-term romantic engagement, which naturally makes his daily job a greater source of insight. concern for both parties.

But most of these movies simply avoid the “What privacy if any?” Question in favor of outdoor thrills – which is understandable, since most of their subjects ostensibly did not endanger any established domesticity that might impede their sportsmanship. .

The gripping film, which National Geographic begins hitting theaters on December 3 (followed by a Disney Plus debut early next year), is a feature debut for Max Lowe, whose late father was considered by some “the best climber-explorer of all time”, equally adept at climbing rock, ice and mountains. Alex lowe is seen here, in one of many archive clips, saying, “There is no doubt that something in my chemistry is attracted to risk”, although he also considered its “daring tempered by enough d ‘experience to know my limits “. Others, however, have found his energy and skills almost limitless, including Conrad Anker, another amazing climber, even though he’s ready to accept number 2 status in their “dynamic duo” once the men have become dedicated athletic partners.

When Alex met his future wife, artist Jennifer considered the prospects of dating someone like her to be a “fun adventure.” But the relationship lasted and turned into a marriage. Even so, it took seven years before they had a child. Lowe had considered reducing his activity level to accommodate this new family life. Instead, after a high-profile trip to Everest accepted for lucrative pay, he found himself in global demand. With the imminent arrival of two more sons, his constant travels and risks were a source of internal and domestic strife.

Serious consideration was once again given to going back in October 1999, when he and cameraman David Bridges were caught in an avalanche in Shishapangma, in the Tibetan Himalayas. Anker, instinctively driven to run the other way, survived while the others vanished. Lowe was only 40 years old.

Two decades later, second son Sam says he no longer has “strong memories” of his father, while younger Isaac (3 years old at the time of the disaster) sees him “as some kind of a dream” . Nonetheless, it weighed very heavily on them all, not excluding Anker, who, in his mingled grief and guilt, immediately devoted himself to the young family. Within months, he and Jennifer became a couple. It was as close as possible to a “seamless transition” for the two junior boys, although not Max, 10, whose feelings were further complicated by the belief that his father might still come back – an illusion encouraged by them. letters sent from the base. camp which only arrived after his disappearance.

Although “Torn” flirts with the movies as therapy, he doesn’t dig in disconcerting ways. Jennifer briefly mentions Alex’s more volatile side, noting, “She wasn’t a perfect character,” but it’s as messed up as the heroic image is. A fleeting mention is made of detractors who “said mean things” about the widow’s hasty courting best friend. Max doesn’t detail his issues with Anker either – he was the only family member who didn’t adopt his stepfather’s name, but he just shrugs his shoulders: “I don’t know why I did that.” , when the subject is discussed. (It might as well be good to learn more about the lives of his brothers.)

Nonetheless, “Torn” can’t help but be touching, due to the dramatic events and the personalities involved. Alex Lowe remains a charismatic figure in many archive images here. The weight of “living in [his] shadow ”only got worse when his remains and those of Bridges were finally found, 17 years later. A family trip to Tibet to retrieve them and subsequent events bring this documentary to a fittingly commemorative but forward-looking ending.

With all the participants well trained in this kind of project (Max Lowe is an established commercial and travel photographer), “Torn” has lots of beautiful outdoor footage from all over the world, even with the 1990s images of Alex Lowe. representing a then-high bar for digital camera technology. While there’s a bit of corporate impersonality in National Geographic’s packaging, the content remains engaging and the rapid editorial pace doesn’t lull to risk losing viewers’ attention.

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