For those of us forever wishing we were brave and motivated enough to fulfil our distant dream of ascending the world’s greatest peak, award-winning director Anthony Geffen’s The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest provides an engaging and educational insight into the type of drive, passion, vigour and sheer pig headedness required to achieve such a feat.
Revolving around the life of the late, great explorer George Mallory, the film successfully documents the great man’s intoxicating, life-long passion for climbing and his ultimately tragic obsession with defeating the mountain he so coveted. Indulging in a well-documented boyhood love for the infamous climber, Geffen presents us with a visually lavish, in-depth exploration into Mallory’s ambitious and complicated psyche by approaching his subject matter from two angles.
Primarily, via the introduction of contemporary adventurer Conrad Anker, the very man who discovered Mallory’s perfectly preserved body, missing since 1924, whilst on his own voyage up the mountain in 1999. Anker’s inclusion is not only pivotal in providing a modern and identifiable personification of Mallorys crazed passion for climbing but his child-like excitement about retracing his idol’s footsteps is vitally infectious.
Geffen’s masterstroke is his tactical use of archive footage, photography, correspondence and journals penned by Mallory during his fateful, final attempt at completing his mission.
Geffen’s masterstroke, however, is not in the filming of Anker’s progress on the mountain itself, but in his tactical use of archive footage, photography, correspondence and journals penned by Mallory during his fateful, final attempt at completing his mission. It is here that the film finds its heart and true substance in its portrayal of Mallory the man, rather than the climber. In particular, the journals and correspondence between Mallory and his wife (read by a fantastic voice cast including Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Hugh Dancy and Natasha Richardson) reveal a sad and telling tale of a man torturously torn between a heartfelt desire to be with his family and an unavoidable need to surmount the insurmountable.
Unfortunately the film is not without its flaws. Geffen’s love for the subject matter, although irrefutable and apparent throughout, gets the better of him with the film rolling for 20 minutes longer than it should, with cumbersome repetition becoming a serious issue. The heavily weighted focus on Anker, presumably a necessity due to limited archive media, also poses an eventual problem in that it detracts from the central and most interesting material regarding Mallory.
Nonetheless, this remains a stunningly shot and thoroughly interesting examination of Mallory’s life and the unique psyches of similar men and women who continue to push themselves to the very limit of human exertion in order to achieve a goal that most would only mention as a token aspiration during a first date.