The Epic of Everest

The Epic of Everest ★★★½

Hard to take The Epic of Everest as anything other than an elegy, not only for doomed climbers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, but for the pristine, otherworldly majesty of the mountain as a whole. J.B.L Noel’s record of Mallory and Irvine’s 1924 attempt at the world’s highest peak marks a paradigm shift, the point where Everest no longer stood as legend, an alien, unconquerable beast, but an obstacle to be overcome, the final great hurdle to the Western world’s presumed supremacy over the earth. This transition doesn't go unnoticed by Noel; one of the first intertitles reads, “And what men shall take up this challenge and win this last battle, which is perhaps the most tremendous of all?”

While the inevitability of such an undertaking is a forgone conclusion, the results bring into question the ultimate nobility of Mallory and Irvine's quest. Seeing the mountain in The Epic of Everest becomes a spiritual event, a witnessing of the divine made real, the Goddess Mother of the World in her supreme, uncorrupted glory. Seeing it now, littered with the bodies and the detritus from almost a century of adventurers and opportunists seeking to follow Mallory’s lead, feels an insult, a defilement of something once mysterious and holy and grand. The Epic of Everest is a tragic story, no doubt, but the greatest tragedy may be the fate of Chomolungma herself.

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