Art connects with different people in different ways because of who they are, what they’re life is like, and all the invisible things like thought-processes, world-views, and emotional responses. So while we often talk about a film for it’s content and how we received it, we rarely give the context in which we received the film.
While I think I would have really loved The Mountain Between Us no matter when I watched it, it just so happened that everything lined up and MADE ME FEEEEEL. I moved to Minnesota from Michigan a few months ago, and lately I’ve been missing my friends from Michigan a lot while also meeting some really awesome people here, aaaaand dealing with some things that are forcing me to swallow my pride and lean on others for support. Human connection is an important part of life, as I’m beginning to understand more and more lately, and that’s exactly what screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe and director Hany Abu-Assad showed us in The Mountain Between Us.
There’s some action and what have you, but it’s very much about human beings and how we relate to one another. Intimate stories like this are tough to write; there’s a lot more pressure to make a character feel completely organic when there’s nothing to distract us from them. With a few minor exceptions, the main characters Ben and Alex (played by Idris Elba and Kate Winslet) were full, complex, well-developed, and beautifully written. And to top it off, Kate and Idris managed to exceed my super high expectations with some amazing performances. I mean… they made me feel.
The plot is pretty simple concept (adapted from a Charles Martin novel): two strangers meet, nearly die, and are forced to figure out how to survive together. Ben, a neurosurgeon with an important surgery tomorrow, and Alex, a journalist on her way home to her wedding, are both trying to get to Denver for connections to their home cities. All the flights are canceled due to an approaching storm, so Alex has the great idea to take a small plane she has access to through some connection, and she, Ben, Walter the pilot, and Walter’s dog set off across the High Unitas Mountains – one of the largest stretches of harsh and uncivilized land in the US. WHOOPSIES the plane crashes, Walter dies, Alex breaks her leg, and they realize the pilot had never filed a flight plan… No one knows that they crashed, where they are, or that they were even flying anywhere. They spend a few days sheltered in the plane hoping for rescue, but eventually commence a very dangerous journey across the stormy January mountains, with no idea where they’re going and if they’ll be able to make it.
In a typical survival film, there are usually characters with more obvious differences of mind and opinion to create conflict and keep the story interesting. There was definitely some conflict between Ben and Alex, but it was never overdone or overused, and felt very realistic.
Spoiler Ahead (although if you’re not an idiot like me you probably can guess this from the trailers and/or the novel it was adapted from):
So normally I’m not super into love stories, unless it’s a Nicholas Sparks adaptation and I’m in the mood for a sappy and touching love story. The Mountain Between Us gets a bit Nicholas Sparksy (in the sense that there’s a love story…), but I was very logical about this one. These two people depended on each other to survive for weeks in horrible conditions. The sexual attraction was there, so it’s pretty reasonable that they fell in love; they understand each other in a way that’s hard for other people to relate to now. I appreciate that the whole narrative wasn’t focused on this inevitable love story though; at first, I was a bit peeved that the trailers had “lied” to me about the love-story, but again, it made sense, and it was such a beautiful story that I couldn’t be mad at it for long. Plus it was adapted from a book, so the story is out there, you know, not being a secret and stuff.
Really my only complaints about The Mountain Between Us is that some of the set-ups and pay-offs felt a bit forced of the character development, and I honestly don’t understand why Mark, Alex’s fiancé (played by Dermot Mulroney), was so cold shouldered toward Ben when they were in the hospital right after their rescue. Like… this man just saved your fiancés life. I don’t care if you are incredibly jealous of Idris Elba. I MEAN BEN, be a bit more grateful, maybe? But back to the first thing… I don’t know if I’m tougher on writing than others because I’m a writer, but there were some things that just seemed like there wasn’t enough breathing room to really understand it as a character trait before we got to the point of that thing being introduced at all. And now after that sentence, you, the reader, are thinking, “she’s a writer… really..? (Insert your favorite squeamish emoji).”
Again, those are the only things I can complain about. Every time I watch a film that takes place somewhere really, really cold, I genuinely think everyone involved deserves a nice hot cup of tea and a freakin’ Oscar. Part of me thinks the whole Alex slipping through the ice into the frozen lake bit was just a cruel joke for Kate Winslet… she’s now being typecast as “woman who will swim in freezing cold water.” But seriously, every aspect of this film was really well done. I wasn’t all that impressed with the cinematography for the first half of the film for some reason, but upon reflection, I think my issue was more with the directing than how everything actually looked. Or I was just looking for something to be critical of… Besides that, the score was beautiful and moving, the editing was honestly everything I wanted, the writing and directing and acting were an unstoppable trifecta of artistic magic! Even the dog was amazing.
I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite film that I’ve ever seen, but it was moving and definitely worth the time and money. I’m going to go with an 8/10 for my score (aka didn’t completely change my life, but was really, really, REALLY good).