What drives a person to put one foot in front of the other when the temperature is a bone-chilling minus-25 degrees? To make life or death decisions when your mind is bent out of shape by oxygen deprivation? When one wrong step could mean an 8,000m drop down an icy crevasse? This doc chronicling the first ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953 never really answers those questions. But as a history lesson it gets a gold star.
From a mix of new and archive interviews (Hillary included) we hear the story of the 13-strong expedition of mostly Brits, travelling with 30 Sherpas and hundreds of porters. As a New Zealander Hillary wasn’t the first choice to make the last push. But when the first group failed he and Tibetan Sherpa Norgay (the man with most experience climbing Everest) were selected as the B-team.
The filmmakers’ decision to reenact their climb is not nearly as cringey as it might have been. Actor Chad Moffitt is the spit of Hillary, although with his canvas rucksack and beard he looks like he should be holding a craft beer instead of an ice axe. There’s a particularly lovely scene at the end, when they’ve reached the top of the world, showing the difference between the two cultures: Norgay digs a hole in the snow and buries a gift to the gods; Hillary gets his camera out to prove they’ve succeeded. What spurred them up Everest? Maybe George Mallory’s answer really will have to do – ‘Because it’s there.’