Reviews — May 3
It’s been said that Edith Wharton left “blood on the walls” in her depictions of early 19th century New York society, so it seems appropriate that Terence Davies’ adaptation of her book “House of Mirth,” one of the best films of 2000, was also among the most depressing. Some viewers will reject it now for that reason, but those who give it a try will be amply rewarded.
Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”) plays Lily Bart, who is wealthy but not quite wealthy enough, and unwilling to play by the patriarchal rules that will ensure her financial security but doom her independent spirit. She finds herself in the orbit of several men, all of whom are objectionable or unavailable. Anderson is remarkable, and as an actress seems comfortable in this milieu.
Davies wrote the script and goes for a leisurely slow burn, using murky colors and pale lighting to depict the world of the wealthy as a sort of emotional dead zone. From the ornate interiors to the most beautiful countryside scenes, virtually every location in the movie looks horribly lonely. And for Lily and those who cannot or will not climb the social ladder, that’s precisely Wharton’s point.
“House of Mirth” (2000) Directed by Terence Davies. Starring Gillian Anderson, Anthony LaPaglia, Laura Linney, Eric Stoltz and Dan Aykroyd. Rated PG for adult themes. 140 minutes.
Those of us who don’t climb mountains — most of us — tend to think the biggest challenge and danger is the climb up. But that’s not really the case: Climbing down is just as difficult. And on some peaks, such as K2, the world’s second tallest, descending is even more risky.
New York Times reporter Graham Bowley examines one such descent in “No Way Down.” Unfolding in chronological order, it’s the story of the Aug. 1, 2008, summit attempt by climbers from the U.S., Ireland, France, Italy, Norway and Korea, and their guides.
They wanted to join the handful — fewer than 275, at that point — of people who had stood on the 28,251 foot summit. First measured in 1856, K2 wasn’t conquered until 1954, after numerous explorers tried and many died in their attempts. Its remote location, steep slopes and shifting conditions — glacial movement and weather — make it a prize in reach of only to the most experienced and bravest climbers. In contrast to K2, mountaineers consider reaching the top of its bigger brother, Everest, almost a breeze.
By July 31, 2008, this group has already spent more than two months ascending the slopes of K2 and acclimating to the extreme altitude. They have reached their highest resting spot, Camp 4, at 25,800 feet above sea level.
Well before dawn on summit day, they set out, tromping across the snow toward their final series of extremely steep, extremely difficult climbs over boulders and glacial ice toward their goal. Some are using oxygen to help them breathe in the thin air; others forge ahead without it, considering it cheating.
The climbers agreed beforehand to split up the work — some would go ahead and fix ropes or markers for the others to follow; some would carry necessary equipment. But the agreement quickly breaks down as they forget supplies or skip details in their excitement to reach the top. And with so many people on the route, a traffic jam develops, slowing everyone down.
Precious minutes of light and altitude tolerance tick away. By the time most of the climbers reach the summit, it’s too late for a safe descent. Some forge on, heading for Camp 4 in the dark. Others wrestle to decide whether to continue blindly, or try to stay alive overnight in the minus-20 degree temperature and killer altitude. Avalanches and ice falls intervene, making the decision for several.
Bowley does a good job describing the beauty and menace of the mountain, the egotism and heroism of the climbers, and the confusion, fear and sadness that develops. You’ll read “No Way Down” quickly — there’s no way you’ll want to put it down.
“No Way Down: Life and Death on K2,” by Graham Bowley, Harper Collins, 2010.