The Mountain Between Us

‘It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.’ Edmund Hillary

The story of human survival has always made for compelling cinema. From Castaway to Alive, depictions of how far the human spirit can endure provides a fascinating aspect of life that most will never experience personally. The tales have become familiar to modern audiences, but novelist Charles Martin offers the element of to this dramatic endurance test, a potential romantic connection between the central characters as they journey through physical trials.

This journey begins in a small charter plane that takes flight over the Rocky Mountains. Dr Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) are attempting to get ahead of an incoming storm that is heading toward Idaho by hiring Walter (Beau Bridges) to pilot them to Denver because all of the commercial airlines are grounded. Halfway through their journey, their plane crashes in the remote and mountainous region. They manage to survive the crash, but these two strangers must rely on one another to navigate through the rugged terrain of the Rockies and convince one another that they can make it out alive.

There are two elements of this story that need to be work for it to win over audiences. The first aspect hinges on the survival story being believable and compelling. Extraordinary events are welcomed and add to the narrative, but it still needs to contain convincing components for the sake of authenticity. The second and essential factor is the chemistry between the two lead actors must be spot on for the love story to be a convincing. These fundamental aspects may have been apparent in Martin’s book, but the visual interpretation by director Hany Abu-Assad failed to reach these necessary heights.

Few people in history have experienced the tragic situation that these two individuals encounter in their travels across the Rocky Mountains, but some key things made their journey less than believable. Their ability to survive on top of a mountain in January with minimal protection and food was such a stretch that it bordered on a fairy tale adventure or an allegory for life. The amplification of the believability factor merely because they experienced minimal physical changes. Idris grew a slightly thicker beard, but neither lost weight of seemed to have any issues with no bathing for four weeks. No one who has experienced winter in the mountains would believe these two outdoor novices would be able to survive the first two nights, much less a month exposed to these extreme elements.

Even though the implausible story of endurance should derail the film, the real weakness comes in the form of the relationship between Idris and Winslet. They have proven to be exceptional actors in the past, but the real chemistry between two people cannot always be manufactured. Each scene of potential romance felt forced and caused the last 15 minutes to turn regretfully into a Nicholas Sparks love affair. All of the on-screen situations caused their relationship to slide down the mountain and fails to move the audience to cheer for their salvation. All it did manage to produce was awkward laughter during the most dramatic scene of the film. When the most compelling character on screen is the dog, this should have led the producers to consider the animal handler as the director and it could have potentially been a better film.

The Mountain Between Us contains all of the necessary material for a unique survival romance but proved that it did not have enough strength to lift it off the side of the mountain. In the end, it did not help or hurt the careers of Alba and Winslet but did the launch the career a new rising film star, Raleigh the labrador.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

Wouldn’t life be better if we did not have trials? Throughout our life on this earth, we strive to find comfort and seek after the least painful means of living. From pain medication to air-conditioning, life in the western world can be relatively pain-free, but is this the true ideal?

Looking back at history, mankind continues to prove that trials can bring out the best in us. Few people seek out difficulties in their lives because they come without having to look for them. When confronted by these challenges, the personal development and testimonies generally show what individuals have within themselves.

This is evident in biblical history, also. Each book of the Old Testament and New Testament show that life tribulations can provide true growth for the people of the past and these lessons can be a gift for us today. This is epitomised in the life and times of Jesus whose painful end brought forward the answer for all of our difficulties.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 

1 Peter 5:10

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.