Netflix UK film review: Mountain
Nathanael Smith | On 15, Dec 2017
Director: Jennifer Peedom
Cast: Willem Dafoe
Watch Mountain online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
One of the last gleaming points of light in the gaping maw of misery that is Twitter is Robert Macfarlane. The erudite Fellow of Literature tweets words from different languages, lost folkloric phrases and technical terms, all relating to nature. Those 280 characters are just the tip of the iceberg with Macfarlane, an immensely gifted writer whose books, such as The Old Ways and Landmarks, seek to capture the immensity and the fragility of nature. He’s also obsessed with the many ways that humans interact with wilderness. His aim? To re-wild our language; to put words to the sense of awe we feel at a panoramic vista; to give us, once more, a vocabulary of nature. His books are remarkable, so when he announced that he’s written the narration for a film about mountains, it’s worth paying attention.
The result is Mountain, directed by Jennifer Peedom and narrated, memorably, by Willem Dafoe. It’s a tribute to humanity’s relationship with mountains and a warning not to take it too far. Watch it in a state of mind somewhere between wonder and fear.
The film is a compilation of original footage by high-altitude cinematographer Renan Otzurk, archive footage from Sherpas Cinema and extreme sports videos by the likes of Red Bull. Peedom’s aim is loose – she’s simultaneously charting the history of climbers, following the rise of organised mountaineering and trying to understand what inspires people to do insane things for the sake of reaching a peak. Its more probing questions often take a back seat to simply watching in awe, as cameras soar over vertiginous ridges. Otzurk and Peedom have an eye for a striking image, capturing patterns and movement from every conceivable angle, often reducing something familiar – say, a ski slope – into something abstract, a blur of criss-crossing movement.
The score, composed by Richard Tognetti and featuring several classical music staples, races in the background, enhancing the sense of majesty and terror. The mixture of sweeping orchestral music and swooping montages of nature at its most powerful makes Mountain, at times, feel like cut scenes from The Tree of Life. This is a film well worth catching on the biggest screen possible.
If all of this sounds like an episode of Planet Earth but without the animals, it’s given weight by Dafoe and Macfarlane’s haunting narration. Not every line is a winner – eyes will roll at the claim that we climb “mountains of the mind” – but Macfarlane’s verbose lyricism shines through. As the camera pans back to reveal a jagged, snow-capped range beneath a starlit sky, Dafoe growls that “mountains humble the human instant and reveal our insignificance.” And there is something truly humbling about this footage. For all of the organised tours, the “crowd control” of people attempting to scale Everest, no one can outlive a mountain. Humans are just tiny specks of light against an unmoving mass of stone and ice.
At the end of this short, free-flowing film, few questions have been answered. You won’t necessarily have a better idea of why humans are so drawn to mountains or even feel the need to climb one yourself. But for a brief, beautiful time, Mountain allows its audiences to simply ponder, revel, or take a step back to admire nature’s beauty. It is a film that creates space and time for awe.
Mountain is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.