Documentaries were at their peak during a time when they were not as popular. Everywhere.
Free Solo was the name of the game. This is the most well-known example. Free Solo won more than an Oscar in 2018. It also sparked a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations from its terrified audience. It was huge!
Free Solo was not the only one. The Dawn Wall was also released by Josh Lowell (and Peter Mortimer) in the same year. This fictional documentary focused on the first free ascent to Tommy Caldwell’s last major uncapped Yosemite mountain face. There were others, too: The Alpinist, currently available to stream on Prime Video, followed Marc-André Leclerc, a Canadian climber who tragically died while climbing the north face of the Mendenhall Towers in Alaska.
Disney Plus has a documentary called Torn that focuses on Torn. Aftermath tragedy. Alex Lowe, an American edge climber, was killed in an avalanche in 1999 on Mount Shishpangma, Tibet. The legendary Konrad Anker, his climbing partner, narrowly escaped that same avalanche.
Anker, following Lowe’s death, committed himself to taking care of Lowe’s wife and children in the unfortunate event of Lowe’s passing. Incredibly, Anker’s widow, Louie, fell in love with Anker after Louie died. The pair eventually had their own children, Lowe’s firstborn. All of Louie’s children call Conrad Anker “Dad” today.
Torn is a meticulously crafted documentary about this journey and its aftermath.
Max Lowe (Alex Lowe’s oldest son), directs Torn. This is a personal tale about the impact of high stakes adventure sports on the lives of family members who suddenly die. He asks hard questions about his subjects, such as: Why risk your life when your family is counting on you?
Director Max Lowe clearly loves his deceased father but he also idolizes Anker after he adopted him. Anker continues climbing even though he was first exposed to Louie’s demise. This documentary also has a common thread: How does Anker walk that tightrope? How logical! While his death will undoubtedly break down a family already in trouble, he continues to climb the steep slope. Much of the film examines the need for people to take risks, but still allows them to pursue their passions even when it seems unreasonable.
Anker’s photo was ripped, however. It’s also a sad portrait of a family still struggling to recover 20 years after Lowe’s passing. The documentary ends beautifully. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say that Torn is an excellent study in unimaginable tragedy. And what happens next.
Despite this, Win some prizesFree Solo and The Alpinist didn’t get audiences for Torn the same way, even though it was – to me at least – the perfect companion piece. Both Free Solo, and The Alpinist, deal with the idea that danger and fatality in varying degrees. They do so well. But Torn dives deeper than these films. It’s worth watching for that alone. It will break your heart.
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