Talk about extreme sports. The new documentary Meru will make you wonder why anyone would want to put themselves so far out of any human comfort zone. That doesn't mean you won't want to watch this daring film. Meru, in fact, plays like an action thriller, because the characters' extreme drive is compelling as are the intense relationships of this group of climbers. As summits go, Meru in the Himalayas is the opposite of Mount Everest, the metaphor for gargantuan peak. But at Everest, you can get a Sherpa to carry your things up the mountain, pitch your tent, and make your food. Meru has a shark fin top, and a reputation: you cannot climb it. So for Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk, Meru, is like Ahab's Moby Dick, an unconquerable, irresistible force of nature.
Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air, about an ill-fated climb on Everest in 1996, introduced the film earlier this summer. "Climbing made me a writer," he admitted. He now lives in Boulder, and still climbs 3 or 4 times per week. Jimmy Chin is a photographer, married to Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the film's co-producer. "The driving force of this movie is friendship," she said. That, most viewers will agree, and the exquisite photography, almost all taken by Chin and Renan Ozturk.
In one of the film's most harrowing story lines, Renan Ozturk had a bad accident in Jackson Hole on a shoot. Jimmy Chin brought him to the hospital. Badly hurt, recovering slowly, Renan Ozturk still dreamed of Meru; Chin and Anker made that dream come true, despite his health issues. At the top of Meru, Jimmy Chin turns the camera on Renan who talks about how happy he is he made the trip. What distinguishes both Jimmy and Renan is that they are photographers first. The film's footage is theirs, and the film is practically everything they shot.
At dinner at the Explorer's Club, everyone wanted to know the gossipy parts of the story: Renan's girlfriend doesn't know that he will make this trip. Does Renan's girlfriend stay with him? Jenny Lowe-Anker had been married to Alex Lowe, Conrad Anker's partner for 18 years. When Alex died, she married Conrad. Jimmy's sister Grace married his best friend. Jimmy and his wife Chai made the film together. At the time of the screening, Chai was pregnant with the couple's second child. But Jimmy was hearing the voice of another woman. Jimmy's mother made him promise that if this was his life and career, she had to die before he did. You will agree; her spirit makes him brave.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.