Chasing the Shark’s Fin: A Review of “Meru”

Imagine that you’re stuck in a cramped tent with two other people, planted on a very tall and dangerous mountain for four days. It’s freezing and you’ve used up most of your food supplies. Your hands and feet are suffering from frostbite and trench foot, and fear is rising that you might just die on this god-forsaken mountain without ever reaching the summit. This is what the mountaineers went through in “Meru,” a new movie by world-renowned expeditioner Jimmy Chin. I had a special sneak peek of the film before it hit theaters and here are my thoughts (spoilers below):

The film’s title and subject matter revolve around Meru Peak, regarded as one of the most dangerous mountains in the world. Tucked deep in the Gharwal Himalayas in the Uttarakhand region of India, Meru has claimed many lives and no one was able to reach its highest peak—Shark’s Fin—until 2011, when three of the greatest mountaineers managed to traverse the route. This is their story.

Their first attempt at climbing the mountain in 2008 proved to be futile and they had to turn back. The footage from their first climb was nothing to write home about; the introduction leading up felt a bit abrupt and awkward. I did enjoy learning more about the three men, as they all make the Dos Equis guy seem like an accountant in comparison. Conrad Anker has been regarded as the best mountaineer in the world and is the leader of the North Face climbing team. Jimmy Chin is a professional climber, skier, photographer and filmmaker whom Conrad mentored. Renan Ozturk, a young climbing prodigy, joined the team despite some apprehension due to his relative lack of experience.


Conrad Anker. Courtesy of Youtube

Naturally, the explorers set out to conquer the mountain again, three years after the initial ascent. But in a twist of events, Renan was severely injured while skiing, possibly compromising his ability to function. To make matters worse, Jimmy became shaken after surviving an accident beyond his control and questioned his capacity to climb Meru again. The team was left broken and shattered. Would they ever accomplish their dream of reaching Shark Fin’s summit? Were they masochistic enough to go back?

The film starts off below expectations, with the actual climbing scenes lacking in depth and quality, but after getting into the backstories of the main characters, I became drawn to their story. I did feel that there was a lack of character development and the three adventurers didn’t change (emotionally) enough throughout the process. Still, the film teaches us a lot about the strength of friendship and how leadership is more about cooperation than anything else. By the end, I couldn’t help but get a little misty-eyed.


Meru mountain. Courtesy of Mother Nature Network

The aerial shots of the mountain and landscape were stunning and transported the viewer to another world via drone, plane or CGI. I found Meru far more beautiful from afar.

All in all, I would recommend this documentary to any climbing enthusiast. If you like watching National Geographic or stories about perseverance, you’ll probably love this movie. But I thought Meru’s climbers were far more interesting than the mountain itself—I would rather just watch a picture about their lives.

“Meru” plays in select theaters throughout the country starting September 4, 2015.


Would you risk your life for a chance to achieve a supposedly impossible dream?





Zara Zhi
Zara Zhi
Zara is a freelance writer and filmmaker who has worked for numerous magazines and news sites. When not coming up with puns or writing screenplays, she enjoys having blind children read to her and donating plasma TVs. Follow her on Twitter: @zarazhi