The Wildest Dream

The Wildest Dream (2010): United States – directed by Anthony Geffen

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mild language, intense themes

There’s a beauty to Mt. Everest, and a brutal ugliness.  There’s a romanticism attached to the mountain, even decades after honor, glory, and adventure went out of style in favor of pragmatism and narcissism.  Conrad Anker remembers the sense of adventure that enraptured brave explorers of the past, such as George Mallory.

In 1924 George Mallory made his final attempt to ascend Everest’s highest peaks.  Perhaps he attained the summit, perhaps not.  Regardless, he did not make it back down the mountain alive.  In 1999 modern mountaineer Anker discovered Mallory’s body.  This moment set his life on a path that would envelope him for the next ten years.

The first segment of The Wildest Dream reenacts Anker’s discovery (shot on location on Everest, the mere production of this documentary would be fascinating to witness).  It then launches into a historical discourse on Mallory’s life and exploration.

Gradually this biographical section begins to develop into two separate and parallel stories, as Anker decides to recreate Mallory’s attempted ascent with period gear.  As he prepares for his journey the film switches back and forth between Mallory’s struggles with his wife, whom he loved very much, and Anker’s similar situation.  With the aid of numerous love letters (read by Ralph Fiennes), it becomes clear that Mallory is torn between his family and his sense of adventure and accomplishment, one that can only be satisfied by scaling Everest.

Anker’s problem is similar.  He has a wife and family, and they know full well the dangers of mountaineering.  His wife’s first husband had been Conrad’s partner, and had died on a climb with him.  These intertwining story lines occasionally correspond a little too perfectly, but the similarities are striking.

The final third of the film starts to lean more toward the “Mythbusters” line of reality entertainment as Anker’s team explores and tests various mountaineering gear from the 1920’s.  Their final ascent is often harrowing, but knowing that they survived to make a film slightly reduces the tension.

The Wildest Dream gently treads the line between IMAX travelogue and historical documentary and reality show.  Not all of the aspects succeed all of the time, but enough of it works to give the audience a solid picture of Mallory, the romantic explorer and romantic husband.  The highlights are definitely the footage of and on Everest, shot with high definition cameras (and gear that could withstand bitter cold) and blown-up to appear on an IMAX screen.  Even in a normal theater or a home theater the experience is thrilling.

No mountain range exists that can compare with the Himalayas, and much of the footage is simply breathtaking.  At the same time, the story of a man with a dream, who declared that “Everest’s existence is a challenge to man’s desire to conquer the Universe” is inspiring and cautionary.  Without pioneers there would be no advancement, but the price for such exploration is often heartbreak and widows and orphans.  The Wildest Dream does an admirable job portraying both viewpoints.

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